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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Democracy amidst the winds of two pandemics

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Bogie Bobis
Bogie Bobis is a father of two adorable daughters and is married to Maritess Bobis who is also his personal editor. He works for a human rights-based NGO, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances as Social Media Point Person and Web Master. He is a Sociology undergraduate of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in Manila. As a visual artist, Bogie is a regular participant in the PUP annual arts month. He is also a convenor and member of the Board of Editor of socialistseed.blogspot.com where he regularly contributes an article.

It has been an unfortunate twist of fate. This year was supposed to mark the 2020 Vision of the movers of globalization–a world that could somehow resemble the beginning of Francis Fukuyama’s final history of unstoppable liberal democracy. But the earlier proliferation of right-wing governments seems to had set the stage for a grimmer state of democracy in the 2020 pandemic world.     

In Asia, the harder the lockdown the tighter the government’s grip on the political and civil rights of its citizens. Human rights are being violated in various ways. This gives the impression that the iron hand of the state has found an alliance with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Citizenship Amendment Act in India, which for the first time, makes religion as the basis for citizenship, had spurred violence against Muslim minorities. In the Philippines, a new anti-terror law is feared to set red-tagging among activists and human rights advocates. The newly imposed national security law in Hong Kong by China had made protesters’ tactics illegal and they are being forced to adapt new forms of protests.  These are iron instruments that secure a jealous power. While in the US, systemic racism continuous to inflict injuries among Black-Americans and other minority groups. Eventually, the “killing” of George Floyd led to a worldwide protest movement.

It’s no excuse to say that the state must suppress more in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 infection. In fact, Nordic countries have flattened the curve without compromising their substantial human rights standards. It’s no excuse either that poorer countries would have difficulties in battling the pandemic. For example, Timor Leste, which has a 2.581 billion USD (2018) GDP, had recorded only 25 total cases of infection and no death since the start of the pandemic.

Adding insult to injuries, illiberal rightist leaders, as the NY Times wrote, are unscientific and likely to believe in conspiracy theories, “Very often they rail against intellectuals and experts of nearly all types,” Steven Levitsky, Mr. Ziblatt’s Harvard and co-author (of the book How Democracies Die), said. “The leaders,” he said, “claim to have a kind of common-sense wisdom that the experts lack. This doesn’t work very well versus Covid-19.”

President Donald Trump of the US who had endorsed injecting disinfectant to COVID-19 patients and called the coronavirus Kung Flu, had stood by his theory that it was made by a Chinese laboratory. President Bolsonaro of Brazil showed up in a pro-government and anti-lockdown rally without wearing a mask–where his supporters too don’t wear mask or wear them improperly. 

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte in spite of his support on the longest-running lockdown and wearing facemask had screwed up by succumbing into his own style of medical populism. He publicly remarked slapping COVID to infused drama and he admitted that he was serious when he suggested using gasoline as a disinfectant. These ridiculously testify to his “man of science” self-image. He is also a vaccine optimist which he said could be available in December and he will be happy to try it first, referring to the Russian COVID vaccine Sputnik V. These only add to an amalgamation of false COVID narrative, as the WHO Western Pacific Regional Director Dr. Takeshi Kasai said, “Unless all countries are protected, no country is safe… We must continue to improve our response and not just hope for the vaccine.”     

This post-neo-liberal world seems to have been ensued by an unfortunate conjuncture of right-wing populism and anti-intellectual social pandemic. Intuitively, the rise of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc.) was partly to be blamed, but the medium could have produced a better message if there were no parties or organization or people that used them for a bad intention of creating false reality or “fake news.” Unfortunately, it created a loud (but empty) and uncritical section of population that produces an irrational discourse on democracy, civil and political rights and it further created an advantageous condition for the perpetration of a loose form of fascism. 

However, since we cannot revert to the neo-liberal world–where the market is lauded as self-organizing and self-regulating (the invisible hand)–which has failed to correct the structural imbalance of societies, we cannot, at the same time, remain under the paradigm of egocentric regimes. There is a need, therefore, to move into a better working framework of democracy. 

In the Philippines, democracy is loosely understood and discourse in it is quite impossible without referring to textbook definitions. It has not yet been acculturated into the public sphere as a living discourse, in a normative way, but it is being adored like an unknowable flower. Thus, the crude understanding of democracy often gives rise to a tyranny of the majority and loose fascist regimes. Unfortunately, in the first world, most notably in the US (and also in the Philippines), anti-intellectualism has been fashionable in social media vis a vis fact-checking and science. Thus, a regime can deliberately project a reality that will serve to boost its political legitimacy; but unfortunately, it often led to an unescapable series of dire consequences like bad karmas.   

The coronavirus pandemic reminds us of the living reality of our times. It can somehow nullify political legitimacy because the numbers of infections and deaths cannot lie. It may also make or remake a state, a nation, or the world. Should reason and truth prevail, it will all depend on our critical actions and decisions. An honest attitude towards democracy can serve as a refining tool to work on. Let us make democracy our candle of hope, a vaccine against the infection of the false. Don’t let it sleep in the cradle of darkness. 

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