For better or worse, we’ll get back to being ourselves after COVID-19

Amid our self-isolations, quarantines, and lockdowns in the face of COVID-19, the earth is breathing a sigh of relief. We have been fighting for its resources and disrupting its ecosystem, thinking we are making it more livable. While doing so, we killed millions of people and made many of the species extinct that shared the planet with us.

Now with the wars on hold and factories shut, the killing has stopped and skies are so clear as if the industrial revolution never took place. Warships are docking and belligerents on all sides of conflicts are implementing measures to contain the coronavirus.

But like past pandemics, this one, too, will be over. Development of vaccines and our herd immunity is just months away, after which we will revert to being ourselves. With livelihoods at stake, factories will gear into action as soon as there is the slightest respite from the virus.

Earth’s lungs will forthwith resume inhaling the emissions from these factories’ chimneys. Just as COVID-19, in its most extreme case, collapses lungs of those with depressed immunity, we will once again set out to test earth’s ability to fight the invasive nature of our manufacturing methods.

The desire for reigniting economic growth will surpass all other objectives since that is how the global economic model has been built. With the demand for higher production at the lowest possible cost, environmental protection is hardly catered for in the matrix. The compromise on our planet’s health is the highest cost excessive industrialization pays.

Profits will retake their place above everything else – over the sustainability of businesses, over the wellbeing of people. Caring for the environment will return to being somebody else’s problem who can, supposedly, reverse all effects of our pillaging, even if responsible countries withdraw from commitments like the Paris Accord on climate change.

That is one fallacy of multipartisan systems where a completely new set of policies and ideals have to take over every four years or so. Politicians in such frameworks are compelled to deliver immediate results, brushing aside longterm effects of their decisions. What happens after their tenure concludes, is supposed to be somebody else’s problem.

Apart from the war with our planet, we will also resume wars with each other. The new coronavirus, an invisible but common enemy of mankind, has put these conflicts on pause and given us an opportunity to reflect upon their rationale. The decision to press the play button will remain to be ours.

How long will it take for us to appreciate the virus’s inability to distinguish between the right and the wrong side in a war is a question of debate. Some countries, with bloated militaries, will continue to ignore our shared vulnerabilities despite gaining a first-hand experience of getting infected. In all likelihood, their fixation on solving the world’s problems with force will not heal.

To run our industries, we will keep competing for resources. Like village neighbors sparring over a passing stream of water, global conflicts seldom take the course of arbitration. The arrangement of international governance will perpetuate giving the right to the might.

Then there are the blows over ideologies that will continue to be exchanged. We had not learned to accept the viability of multiple political systems before the outbreak, nor are we expected of doing so any time soon.

Ideological battles historically emanated from religious differences. By the early twentieth century, they shifted to the capitalist vs communist tussle during the Cold War. Today the feud persists as a mix of quest for religious and political dominance.

Perceiving the COVID-19 threat as existential, most of the world has put ideological disagreements behind. Nations with all kinds of societal systems are assisting each other as the pandemic engulfs one after another. Once this threat departs, we risk getting back to subverting each other over our differing schools of thought.

Besides the bleak future painted above, there definitely is a silver lining. Social engagement that we took for granted in our daily lives was the first casualty of the contagion. Immediately after surmounting this challenge, there will be a boom in social activity as we will rush to meet our dear ones.

This is a classic example of realizing the value of something once it’s gone. Isolation has had a significant impact on our mental states. Achieving a level of normalcy would require getting near to people, spending time with those we missed, and, most importantly, going outdoors.

Past pandemics did not radically alter the collective human behavior. This one isn’t expected to either. For better or for worse, we will get back to being ourselves. Though by confining us to our homes, Mother Nature has given us a chance to come out of this calamity with a resolve of making a positive change.

Iram Khan
Iram Khan
Iram Khan is a Pakistan-based commentator on international and commercial affairs. She holds a Masters degree in Psychology and regularly contributes to news outlets with op-ed articles. She tweets at @IramKhanISB.