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Coronavirus: The Unfolding of an Epistemic Crisis
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Coronavirus: The Unfolding of an Epistemic Crisis

Epistemology involves the philosophical analysis of the nature of knowledge and how it informs the ontology of the concepts like truth and belief or how beliefs are formed, internalized and justified. Notwithstanding the fact that it is happening, however, the whole process of formation and internalization of these beliefs is almost imperceptible. Since the history of the becoming of beliefs is far too deep and elaborate, the occurrence of a sudden anti-epistemological rupture, unbecoming this deep-rooted tradition of beliefs, appears very unlikely. The process of unbecoming may take as much time as the process of becoming. However, a black swan event like the present coronavirus pandemic can, if not completely decimate the structured field of our beliefs and values, at least help us to reconsider the relevance of different beliefs, ideologies, institutions and patterns of human behaviour.

The unrelenting coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc across the globe. The confused world leaders addressing their nations, the unprecedented media clamour for stricter control and prevention, social media histrionics, the lockdown of towns, cities, and centres of business and education reflects the enormity of the crisis. However, being an immediate threat to life as it certifies the presence of an otherwise normalized absence or uncertainty about death, coronavirus distracts our attention from how it subverts the relevance or the semblance of truthfulness from varied forms of behaviour, beliefs and other so-called powerful functional institutions of our world society, which silently evolve along the life itself. Though this pandemic may not completely annihilate humanity from the planet, however, it should teach us some serious lessons to reconstruct our social structure to tackle such pandemics with greater readiness and control in the future.

Let’s begin with the belief or ideology that drives our economic system and how it is being run roughshod over by the coronavirus onslaught. In the wake of the deepening crisis, the roof of our economic system is slowly crumbling on the very structure supporting it. And this supporting structure is capitalism. When doctors advise people to stay back at home to prevent the contagious virus from spreading, the working class, unlike the super-wealthy who have private jets to flee to germ-free hideaways, can’t afford to stay back and wait for the virus of hunger take them over. In this system of compulsion, a worker has to come out of the bed, use public transport, work in crowded places and silently adhere to the compulsive mechanism to save both himself and the system. Under this system, even the medical treatment (nobody knows how patients will be saddled with bills who seek the still-awaited vaccine for coronavirus) may not be affordable to the working class. Based on their findings, Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkson extensively highlight in their book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger that inequality of wealth and power ‘leads to a state of chronic stress.’ This stress further wreaks havoc on ‘bodily systems such as the cardiovascular system and the immune system, leaving the individuals more susceptible to health problems.’ Therefore, what the present adverse situation teaches us is not that some utopian new liberal system should provide free medicare to face the coronavirus pandemic, but that it is time to rebuild our society where human needs govern the process of production. In the new system, we won’t at least have our healthcare regulated by the decisions of wealthy capitalists owning hospitals, medical equipment manufacturing firms, pharmaceutical companies and insurance systems. In other words, it deconstructs the capitalist ideologies of market mechanism which have become ever stronger in the modern age of radical nationalism.   

Secondly, let’s see how the novel virus can alter the semantics of the phenomenon of nationalism. In India, the sentiment of nationalism or patriotism is not only a strong behaviour but also a religion. Somehow, unfortunately, this sentiment has been merely confined to the sublimated borders and the imaginary soldiers sacrificing their holy blood all the time to safeguard these borders. However, the pandemic should teach us to align our sentiment of patriotism in a different direction. In these really hard times out patriotic feelings should not be driven by the mercenaries or enlisted soldiers fighting imaginary wars but by the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, volunteers and utility workers who risk their lives for others. There can’t be a greater effort to serve and save a nation than their real unflinching hard work. This way, the novel coronavirus can redefine nationalism as something cultivating life and health of a nation and not as something threatening the same of some other nation.

Another important lesson coronavirus can teach us would be redefining the overbearing influence of some religious teachings in the shaping of our ‘sociological imagination.’ In all adverse situations in the past, be it epidemics, disasters, wars, diaspora or prosecutions, religion has not only managed to survive but also emphatically pronounced judgements about such occurrences. The underdeveloped, as well as the developing countries where healthcare systems are already inadequate and unequipped to combat the novel virus, are unfortunately controlled by, to use a phrase by Milan Kundera ‘sacrosanct certainties.’ Whereas some unanimously profess the belief that cow urine and cow dung can be used as antidotes to prevent coronavirus outbreak, the others exclusively tout themselves as the God’s ‘chosen few’. With a strange celestially approved supercilious attitude, they disavow any possibilities of this virus infecting them. Some even sadistically justify the plight of other humans in different nations simply for being non-religious or anti-religious. In this time of quarantine, these religions of the congregation need to falsify some of their obsolete beliefs before it is too late. It is high time to realize that coronavirus doesn’t choose people based on their religious beliefs. The way we justify religious teachings like ‘namaste’ or five-time ‘wudu’ (ablution) a day as preventions from coronavirus, in the same breath we should falsify other teachings like congregational supplications, drinking cow urine or handshake. Coronavirus is a real big threat to our collective wellbeing and the impervious nature of religions, causing much of our non-seriousness to the pandemic, can only make us more vulnerable.

The other possibility is the emergence of new hyper-real world order. It may sound weird or even unfounded but the people of this generation can never easily be complacent to touch, visiting crowded places or breathing air in an enclosed space. Distancing could be a new normal, pushing technologically advanced societies for a greater telemanipulation of information.  Simulated reality, modern Platonic ideal forms will significantly influence our understanding of the new world.

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Furthermore, the outbreak of coronavirus has seriously called into question the very phenomenology of love, empathy and compassion. Sadly, it has again proved them irrelevant in the time of sanctions, nationalism and capitalism.

Let’s hope the coronavirus pandemic ends soon and makes space for better changes for a better world. 

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