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The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2020

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SEPT 2020 Issue
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The Real Virus

“Schools closed
fully subjected to virtual space
Virtual reality real solitude…
Greater control of our bodies, new risks, more inequities
We understood that the real virus is capitalism rooted in our guts
And by understanding all this, we understand that the least risk at the end of everything is the Covid19”

The prism of COVID-19 (like the prism of the famous Pink Floyd album and the wonderful song “Another Brick in the Wall,” on the subject of education) accentuates a series of nuances, some that were already seen, others that seem new, in a world in total crisis: paradoxically, the earth in its 50th Earth Day, celebrated by its greatest predator (the human), wanted to take a break (and why not?) and gave a fatal blow to its economic system that puts ambition above coexistence and corrodes the virtues of humanity.

On its 50th anniversary, the earth gives us a clear reminder of the fragile vulnerability of humans, but it shows us a more important message that humanity refuses to see through the veil of the prevailing economic system: the fragility of our planet. As Jefferson Airplane would say “[humanity] you are the crown of creation and you've got no place to go.” "For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” God sentenced man to his fall, reminding us of how fleeting we are in this world.

The international political system shows us year after year how the environmental approach through conventions, protocols, declarations, panels, and intergovernmental environmental forums is a constant failure. 23 years after the Kyoto Protocol it is clearly seen how that approach enhances a market around the environment and does not truly incentivize renewable energies enough to review the COP 21 agreement, which does not even mention the words “fossil fuel” or “oil” or “coal,” since it follows a basic mercantile logic as articulated by James Hansen: “There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will continue to be burned.” This recalls the parable of the philosopher Byung-Chul Han on the behavior of the human being with nature, which is almost analogous to that of a viral expansion.

On a trip, Sinbad and his companion come to a small island that looks like a paradise garden, they feast and enjoy walking. They light a fire and celebrate. And suddenly the island wobbles, the trees fall. The island was the back of a giant fish that had been motionless for so long that sand had accumulated on top of it and trees had grown on it. The heat from the fire on its back is what brings the giant fish out of its sleep. He dives into the depths and Sinbad is thrown into the sea.

This parable teaches that humanity has a fundamental blindness, it cannot recognize that the capitalist system on which it stands (and has generated its peak in knowledge, science, technology, even arts and humanities), is also its own downfall. That this system, which also has great social deficiencies, inequalities (1% of the world's wealthy accumulates 82% of global wealth), that before a pandemic, this same humanity suffered from another virus with more incubation and that was more lethal than COVID-19 itself. That the virus of capitalism would precisely have an outbreak like so many have had in recent history, that the virus of capitalism was in seizure the same year that COVID-19 was identified, as Bifo Berardi would say. From Santiago (Chile) to Barcelona (Spain), from Paris (France) to Hong Kong (China), from Quito (Ecuador) to Beirut (Lebanon), crowds of very young people took to the streets, by the millions, rabidly. The planet’s body was full of spasms that the mind could not guide.

This virus is called capitalism and today it faces COVID-19: a virus that has loneliness, isolation, stillness, and virtuality as its allies—words that are synonymous with death for humanity and its fundamental principles: affection, movement, socialization, contact, solidarity (because before economic mercantile exchanges, there was solidarity)… Unfortunately, humanity has abandoned these principles and it is the main ally of a system that in the end, will also end up destroying it.

Regarding COVID-19, the duality was never health versus economy, or freedom versus health. The true duality that humanity faces today is to overcome a pandemic without having to change the paradigm of consumption, desire, and ambition produced by the capitalist system. Our bodies are corroded by the virus of capitalism and this is the real challenge facing popular education today; let's break the “wall” of education that Pink Floyd spoke about!

Bogotá, Colombia

Contributor

Henry Beltrán Pérez

Henry Beltrán Pérez holds a Master’s degree in Education from the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional in Bogotá, Colombia. Henry’s expertise is in peacebuilding through socioemotional learning for children and youth.

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The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2020

All Issues