Fear and looting in the time of COVID-19

A clever man once wrote that wisdom comes to us when it can no longer do any good. In these times of infobesity, wise advice is hard to discern even for the most well-intentioned among us.

Mass hysteria is often boosted by confusion, misinformation and a heavy bout of egoism. We are not sure, really, when wisdom comes to us, or for that matter, whether it ever comes at all.

This era of the spread of the Coronavirus does allow us to take a long, hard look into the soul of humankind. Notes from the time of COVID-19:

Fear and looting

I must confess that my circumstances are very particular. In my house of expats, we focus on the European reality – a cosmopolitan approach in Luxembourg, the nation of free transport for all. Both my wife and I work for a European institution which means daily exposure to 28 different nationalities. I cannot resist following what happens in Malta and my wife hails from the Veneto region so our media bubble has been mainly concentrated on the news from what has fast become the Sick Man of Europe.

Anti-bacterial gel. Soap. Face masks. They’ve gone from the shelves in the Greater Region around here. Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, France – they have all been raided dry of these Coronavirus essentials. To be honest, we have seen nothing like the Lidl raids in Malta, yet the instinct of self-preservation over civic consideration manifests itself in different ways.

There is that sense of an egoistic approach to a crisis that seems to be a hallmark of the time – society is less willing to pool resources and face the problem collectively and individuals are hoarding, looting and bunkering to save themselves.

Fear does lie behind much of what is happening. Fear of the unknown, fear that is conflated by the 21st century jackals who will thrive and speculate on ignorance that has probably been encouraged by the jackals themselves.

Panoramic panic pandemic

COVID-19’s spread has had the exceptional spin-off of emphasising the interconnectivity of everything in the global village. That, and the importance of science in our lives.

The whole point behind discussions of containment and spread was that the virus knows no borders. Once it had jumped species it leapt and bound from nation to nation without any concern for the imaginary boundaries that humankind had set up. While the ordinary citizen concentrated on egoistic precautions, the financial effects of the early containment remedies immediately made themselves felt.

Production slowed down until it reached a standstill. The free movement of people across the globe was massively hit. Factories and livelihoods were under threat to compound the misery. Cars stopped being manufactured, watches, and whole production chains. Tourism and transportation took a hit.

Incredibly, there were positives to all this. China’s pollution cloud started to fade away after weeks of industrial inactivity. Was COVID-19 Mother Earth’s way of fighting back?

In Italy, a sense of indignation at being treated as the pariah of Europe produced some contradictory results from the rightist elements in politics. Previously advocates for closing the ports of entry into Italy, they were suddenly the biggest proponents for opening borders and returning to business as usual.

A planeload of Italians stuck in administrative limbo in the Mauritius was returned to sender and the Right discovered what it means to have a group of people – young and old – stuck on a means of transport between borders. Suddenly, they developed a sense of compassion that no number of boatloads of immigrants at the bottom of the ocean had managed to provoke.

The waste republic

I do not have enough words to thank the farmers who took action in protest at the Wasteserv landfill plans. Just like the sterling work of groups such as Extinction Rebellion Malta and Moviment Graffitti this kind of action is what is needed to shift the social conscience into action.

The administrators of our nation want to expropriate 200 tumoli of farmer’s land in order to expand the massive Magħtab landfill.

Take a minute to reread that last sentence again and again. Do not for a moment think that we have been lulled into a sense of normality and that the overriding questions of rule of law in Malta, of justice and of a nation that has been cheated of its patrimony by a corrupt class of politicians have been forgotten. The farmers’ action falls nicely within a much wider civil uprising that no number of polls backing the conventional Parties and their Leaders can hold back much longer.

We do not have to wait for COVID-19 in Malta to experience a systemic breakdown when it comes to handling the environmental challenges of the 21st century. Our political class has repeatedly shown its inability to create a sustainable social and environmental plan. That is yet another reason for civil society to take matters into its own hands and work towards a forward-thinking new politics armed with a social and environmental conscience.

That wisdom will not come to us any time soon. At least not without any work from our part.


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