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Break on through to the other side

Sparkling waters along the Batu Ferringhi coastline, 12.52pm, 30 April 2020 - LYE TUCK-PO

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We are learning what the world might look like if humanity slows down and stops, Sonia Randhawa writes.

Let’s be honest. Our governments have no idea when this lockdown ends, how it ends and what the world will be like once it ends.

Which is a really interesting place to be. Terrifying, exhilirating and, of course, the ride to get there is particularly harrowing.

The United States is imploding. Civil war has been lurking below the surface since Cambridge Analytica and the Russians allegedly conspired to build walls around communities and increase the divisiveness and fear pervading US politics. It’s coming much closer to the surface, much quicker, during the Coronacrisis.

Fear of the Yellow Peril, still laughably considered communist, also never far below the surface, is also rising. I have no idea how the blame game ends, but it’s hard to see happiness there.

Our own government, taking its cue not just from its authoritarian past, but the attacks on civil liberties happening elsewhere, is not so much turning its back on a reform agenda, as pretending that such a thing never existed.

Which, I guess, in hindsight, it never really did – the Pakatan Harapan government was too busy keeping an eye on the next election and the rising right to implement wholehearted reform and we are left with the detritus of the previous regime.

But times are so uncertain, there is a malleability to the future. This is a time of change, and possibly the apocryphal butterfly’s wings of chaos theory really can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world.

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Positive, institutional, long-lasting change, encompassing social and climate justice, is hovering right next to the rising authoritarianism. It is up to us – Malaysia’s citizens, the world’s citizens – to demand that the stimulus packages, the bailouts and handouts, the money pumped into the system must be used to build the future we want – not a future that puts us back on this crisis treadmill.

Be in no doubt. The Coronacrisis did not occur in a vacuum, and each death that occurs, is not just attributable to some natural disaster.

The Coronacrisis is a direct result of the system we inhabit, a system which values human greed over human and ecological need, a system which regards humanity as being separate from nature, rather than integrally dependent on nature, a system which sees acceptable trade-offs between human lives and back account balances.

One truly terrifying statistic from the Coronacrisis in China is that, on balance, if the current death toll from China is accurate (I’m agnostic on this point), the virus saved around 30,000-40,000 lives, just from the reduced pollution over Chinese cities – not taking into account the lives not lost in traffic accidents, the lives not lost in factories.

There are lives that are just as important as those lost to the virus, lives which should not be traded blithely for convenience and profit.

We are learning what the world might look like if humanity slows down and stops. Living on a main road, I’m finding my asthmatic son breathes better when the traffic lessens. Despite the virus, it’s easier, in some places, to breathe deeply.

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I don’t want to remain in lockdown forever. I cannot wait to see my friends, and colleagues, to take my kids on a play-date, to get my hair cut (oh please!). And I’m lucky, I have a garden, I have people around me, I have internet access.

Money is tight, my income sources have dried up, and I’m not sure of the path out. My partner, whose job paid the bills, was working from home before being made redundant.

This isn’t a brave new world. But it could be. What sort of world do you think it should be, and how are you making it happen?

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