• Vigilance

The Covid Revolution.

By Karen Moe

If I were a painter, I would paint the coronavirus. Maybe someone is already. If you are, please send me some jpgs and I will write a review.

Most likely the most graphically designed virus in history, Covid 19 has a multiplicity of media looks: there is the pale blue with white crystalline, taupe amoeba fringe, sea-foam fuchsia cotton-baton tipped spikes, psychedelic gobstopper, the understated golf ball with orange and the yellow amoeba complemented by green-hued fringes on black, to name a few highlights.

The orange triangle tipped spikes on a powdery grey surface spherical Covid 19 is the one most featured in the daily reports of its stealth. It is a conflation of both the beautiful and the grotesque: the former when one admires its form and palette, the latter when one imagines it partying down in their lungs. Fatality aside, it could be a pendant, a bobble, a new kind of sequin; but, no, it is terrorizing the world. And, so far, primarily the First. The coronavirus, named so because of its deific halo made of spikes, is an army of ruthless little fashionistas with a prowess perhaps surpassing our very own military drones—along with, like our fine-tuned fighter jets that have terrorized the exploitable nations for decades, the technology that has the ability to upend what we have presumed to be the free world; suffering en masse is no longer just happening “over there.”

What makes this brand of Covid so special is that you could be a host (some say there is a one in three chance that you are) and, as of yet symptomless, you are traipsing about your life as though you are one of the untouched ones. In your presumption of “I’m clean,” you are doing the dirty work for the little devil by transmitting as you go. The ultimate weapon is one that has the ability to turn its victims into their own exterminators.

We have all seen the devious double pronged spikes that make Covid 19 a step ahead of its predecessors. Coronavirus spikes consist of two connected halves, and the spike activates when those halves are separated; only then can the virus enter a host cell. In SARS-classic, this separation happens with some difficulty. But in SARS-CoV-2, the bridge that connects the two halves can be easily cut by an enzyme called furin, which is made by human cells and is found across many tissues. Covid 19 is also able to infect both the upper and lower airways. An upper-respiratory infection spreads more easily, but tends to be milder, while a lower-respiratory infection is harder to transmit, but is more severe. This double whammy could also conceivably explain why the virus can spread between people before symptoms show up—a trait that has made it so difficult to control[1] and actually kill a startling number of people in the self-proclaimed developed nations.

Throughout my lifetime as a citizen of the First World, I have heard many people say: “there are too many people in the world. There is no way that the world can support this many people.” Implying that some need to go. Not them of course. (Usually Africa is the target for the most superfluous of humans). And there is rarely a mention made by the majority of citizens of the world’s wealthiest nations about sacrificing some of their historical privilege. [2]

In a Guardian article from 2017, Stephan Metcalf defined Neo-Liberalism as “the reigning ideology of our era—one that venerates the logic of the market and strips away the things that make us human.” [3] During the early 1990s, the Neo-Liberal agenda was actualized by the deregulation of national economies and the outsourcing of industrial production in order to enable international corporations (based primarily in the First World) to exploit cheap labour and the resources of what are more aptly named the slave countries—without, as per high capitalist logic, having to be responsible for human and environmental abuses. It is this lack of humanity fueled by greed that is responsible for the pandemic, a force that is as ruthless as its progenitor of whom it has been attacking first: the First World and, from this Canadian’s positioning in the global hierarchy of privilege, that means us.

Way back when at the peak of the European Industrial Revolution in his famous discussion of commodity fetishism (where, through capital exchange, objects take on a magical quality detached from not only their use-value, but also from their means of production), Karl Marx stated: “the more you consume, the less human you are.”[4] Modern-day corporations are geniuses at imbuing their commodities with mysticism. This is called marketing.

The iPhone is as an ultimate example of a commodity fetish: masses of consumers must have it, even though the one they bought last year still has, in Marx’s words, a fully functioning use-value. As they line up outside of Apple Stores across North America, rabid for instant prestige and a few added (and unnecessary) features, no thought is given as to how and where their object of adulation was made. The religion of consumers is based in the individual acquisition of things. In order to be fully human, the spell of the commodity fetish must be broken. The culture of consumerism must stop—and, seeing as we have the power, we don’t have to be helpless.

When the means of production are separated from the acts of consumption, capitalist interests are free to exploit labour by, literally, keeping reality removed from the consciousness of the consumers. Out of sight out of mind, as the saying goes. Today, the separation of the means of production from the acts of consumption is absolutely global. The good for purchase on one side of the world is separated from the bad of its production on the other. Neo-Liberalism has been Marx’s nightmare of impending inhumanity come-true for decades.

Begun in the 1970s, strategic outsourcing was the brainchild of corporate America and became fully entrenched in the global economy by the early 1990s. Not only does outsourcing serve to maximize corporate profit and increase the power of corporations internationally, it has also exacerbated the disparity between the have and have not peoples of the world. [5]

The 2003 documentary The Corporation showed how corporations became on par with individuals without the inconvenience of having a conscience [6] —taking responsibility for one’s actions is a full-blown profit-margin virus. But now, an as of yet untreatable Covid has followed the privileged home and is causing panic and fear never experienced—or imagined—in our lifetimes. And it has taken away, at least momentarily, our freedom.

The city of Wuhan, China—an industrial hub of eleven million people—is the hometown of our viral nemesis. We have all seen photos of the infamous Wuhan wet market of which the virus is said to have had its biological birthing. But Wuhan, an embodiment of China’s rise as a global economic power, is the coronavirus’ ideological birthplace.

In an article written on January 24th, 2020 at the beginning of the shut-down of Wuhan, Beijing and Shanghai, the CNN reported the crippling of the international auto industry through the spread of the new and improved Covid. Known as one of China's "motor cities," Wuhan is home to numerous auto plants that (attempt to) satisfy the world's insatiable desire for cars. Car-makers like General Motors, Nissan, Renault, Peugeot and Honda outsource their labour through subsidiary Chinese companies so that they don’t have to bother with any of the costly labour standards back home. [7]

In December 2019, The New York Times reported that emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide from fossil fuels had hit a record high. [8] Considering the protests around the world calling for the end of the use of fossil fuels before Covid 19 took over our cultural consciousness, it is highly ironic (and ideally noticeably significant) that the source of some of the world’s greatest automotive output is also the source of what now threatens our lives, has interrupted our ability to make money, and impeded our consumer habits. No longer something to be merely protested, global devastation is now absolutely personal—it has entered our homes, our families, our wallets and our bodies.

It is not only cars. The prestige acquired by the ability to buy such fetishized brands as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Cartier are also produced in Wuhan. [9] Ground-zero of the coronavirus is one of many examples of where the products that feed the ideology of excess are manufactured; Wuhan is a city that spews toxins for our benefit. We blame China for its environmental irresponsibility—for its industrial revolution—as we gobble up the goods. Cities like Wuhan are where standards of success that are built upon the exploitation of other people and of the earth come from.

Image from https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/10/asia/china-wuhan-pollution-problems-intl-hnk/index.html

Not only is the rapid transmission of the disease a result of the globalization of the world economy, it is also linked to global travel between airports. Since the implementation of the Neo-Liberal infrastructure, global traffic has increased like never before in human history. According to Ian Goldin, a professor of Globalisation and Development at Oxford, the super-spreaders of the goods of globalisation, such as major airport hubs, are also super-spreaders of the bads.[10] Zipping around the globe in pursuit of profit and pleasure has come back to bite us.

24 Hours of Global Air Traffic in 4 Seconds.

Ironically, as novel as the novel Covid, the rich countries have been welcoming help from less wealthy ones. Russia sent medical equipment and masks to the United States. Cuba supplied doctors to France. Turkey dispatched protective gear and disinfectant to Italy and Spain.[11] A cunning Covid has turned the disparity between the rich and the poor on its head—there has been a global inversion of human tragedy. For now anyway.

There is, rightfully, great concern by the World Health Organization about Covid 19 getting its ruthless little spikes into the heart of Africa and, during the writing of this article, it has been doing just that. In contrast with the typical scenario of human tragedy being centered on the historically victimized continent, though, in an April 10th, 2020 article in the Atlantic, Graeme Wood observed how: “if the spread [in Africa] seems slow to develop, that may be because no African country has the same volume of international travel as the countries elsewhere that are already suffering.”[12] They are the countries with the highest level of international contact that make up the majority of the 17, 578 cases as of April 16th with Algeria at 2,160, Egypt with 2,505, Morocco at 2, 251, and South Africa at 2, 506.

Unfortunately, the curve is climbing steadily in Africa going from 0 to almost 18,000 in one month.[13] Due to the lack of health care (especially in comparison with the West), the effects will be more devastating and the death rate more dramatic. The Central African Republic, for example, has only three ventilators for a population of five million. [14] We think we have it bad.

There are some possibilities—perhaps idealistic—that Africa will have some advantages in fighting the disease. Ironically, these advantages are the legacies of disadvantage: there are fewer vulnerable, elderly people in Africa because the average life-span is much less than in the Western nations based on the latter enjoying a higher quality of life; there is a theory that Africans have an immunity because of similar lethal viruses suffered in the past; there is a possibility that, because the African people tend to stay put more than we do, the transmission may be less vigorous. However, if these attempts at optimism end up being wishful thinking, the African people will, once again, pay the greatest cost for our historical wealth.

In Mexico, as in all other countries where the extreme majority of the demographic is poor, it is impossible for most people to quarantine. Ironically, having the ability to quarantine during a pandemic is a privilege in itself. In Mexico as elsewhere, the wealthy have compounds where the children can still run around outside; the middle class still has ample space not to go completely nuts in.

The Spanish word ‘hacinamiento’ relates to the situation of being cooped up in a small space. The literal English translation is ‘over-crowding.’ In a quarantine context, however, ‘hacinamiento’ has taken on political connotations. When people are forced to (or told to by the government and the international community) stay in tiny apartments with their families of five, six, seven, eight and maybe more people, quite logically, they can’t do it. They go outside. They pick up the virus and take it back to their cramped homes and are chastised by the middle class and the wealthy for not having obeyed the quarantine. [15]

At least 60% of people in Mexico live hand-to-mouth, or ‘dia por dia.’ Wealthy countries like Canada have government programs like Employment Insurance and the ability to implement an extensive Covid 19 Economic Response Plan that supports individuals, businesses and other sectors so that we are more readily able to obey the mandate of staying home. On April 9th, 2020, the Canadian government announced that social relief spending is projected to reach $184 billion CDN. [16] Of course, Canada—like all other Western nations—is going to have a deficit; there is going to be an economic recovery period post-pandemic. However, due to a history of economic exploitation of the Third World, the wealthy countries have far deeper pockets to offset economic crisis. In countries like Mexico, with little to no social net and a constitution that has been poisoned by the Neo-Liberal agenda since the 1980s, the poor have no choice but to continue to leave their homes every day so as to be able to feed their families. [17]

In her article, “The Modern Supply Chain is Snapping: The Coronavirus Exposes the Fragility of an Economy Built on Outsourcing and Just-In-Time Inventory,”[18] Lizzie O’Leary discusses how reliant everyday products are, specifically, on Chinese components.

She reports that there are fewer Chinese ships on the water and major ports around the world are feeling the effects. She talks about how the profit maximization of just-in-time inventory only stocks 15 to 30 days in advance and leaves the consumer vulnerable to not having access to what we are used to and, perhaps, if the pandemic goes on for too long, not having access to what we need. The coronavirus is showing us how, in a supply chain based in greed, we, too, are vulnerable.

Instead of taking the leap into the possibility of this exposure being an opportunity for a complete snapping of a rapacious supply chain, though, at the end of her article, O’Leary reports how the most powerful corporations have the ability to shift their production to other countries where low labour costs can still be prioritized. Damn. Even though her article begins so hopefully, it appears that once the coronavirus stops threatening our individual lives and curtailing the delivery of our cars, toilet paper, Gucci and H&M, the supply chain we are accustomed to will snap back to our cushy normal.

Julio Vincent Gambuto’s piece, “Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting,” calls upon the American people to take this time of “the great pause” to “think deeply about what you want to put back into your life.” He expresses how “this is our chance to define a new version of normal, a rare and truly sacred opportunity to get rid of the bullshit.” [19]

Gambuto doesn’t define what this ‘bullshit’ is, exactly, except for stating that Americans (and this includes the lifestyle of the majority of members of the industrialized nations) are too busy to notice that “we have deeply disturbing problems.” He states that “we are good people” and that Americanism “is not some villainous plot to wreak havoc and destroy the planet and all our souls along with it.”

If one places Gambuto’s ‘Americanism’ beyond the borders of itself, however, it is a villainous plot, an ideological scheme that prioritizes the free market and the unfettered pursuit of happiness—which, in the historically most powerful capitalist economy in the world equates to the right to as much profit as one can extract for individual gain. The ideology of an unrestricted free market, a fundamental part of the Americanism Gambuto speaks of, has led the way in the global exploitation of the designated under-developed countries since the end of the Second World War. In a Neo-Liberal world, the ability to profit monetarily is the gage of both national development and personal happiness.

During this rare moment of First World strife, I have heard similar comments as Gambuto’s as to how the time of Covid has changed our lives forever, that this is an opportunity to change our ways, how we need to dig into our inherent goodness and, some have said, that we have no choice now but to live in a new world. I certainly hope that this possible time for reflection will instill some long-lasting awareness and a corresponding ideological transformation, but I must admit, due to our centuries-old habit of pursuing the glories to be found in greed, I am, unfortunately, skeptical.

In order for any good to come out of the suffering of those who have been afflicted by Covid 19 through having survived it, having not and those who have lost a loved one, it is crucial to acknowledge the fact that it has taken a deadly virus that harkens from the production of our lifestyle to invade our homes for us to seriously consider doing anything about our culture’s ‘deeply disturbing problems’ in the first place. And many are undoubtedly jonesing to go back to ‘me-me-me’-normal. And yet, to end on a hopeful note: perhaps this virus with a halo made of spikes is an ambassador of awakening that is forcing us to realize not only our own vulnerability, but also our complicity. And, maybe it has taken this deadly little messenger from the dregs of where our comforts come from to initiate a long overdue ideological revolution.

About the Writer:

Karen Moe is a writer, visual and performance artist and a feminist activist. Her work focuses on gender, systemic violence, justice and the unacknowledged. She has been published in such magazines as Border Crossings, ArtSpace, WhiteHot and Revista192. She is the editor and founder of the magazine “Vigilance: Fierce Feminisms.” Karen has exhibited and performed across Canada, in the US and in Mexico and has just finished her first book, Victim: a Manifesto. Karen lives and works in Vancouver, Canada and Mexico City.


[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/03/biography-new-coronavirus/608338/ [2] To take one of many examples, citizens of the First World could sacrifice a few of their rib eyes and a lot of their hamburgers to pitch in a bit and actually undermine the claims that we can never feed the 7.8 million people. Way back in 1997 it was reported that "if all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million." Three years ago, it was stated that, “even now at seven billion people, an estimated 805 million people suffer from chronic hunger.” Focusing solely on the production of beef in the US, these figures demonstrate that there certainly is a way the 7.8 million people who inhabit the same planet could be supported: the minority of the haves just have to sacrifice some of their too much. https://news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-people-grain-livestock-eat; https://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/world-hunger-population-growth-ditching-meat/ [3] https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/aug/18/neoliberalism-the-idea-that-changed-the-world [4] Scott G. McNall. “You Are What You Eat: Some Thoughts on Consumption and Marxist Class Theory.” Mid-American Review of Sociology, 1990, Vol. XIV, No. 1-2:45-52. [5] https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/trade_environment/wheeling/hnike.html; https://www.businessinsider.com/how-nike-changed-the-shoe-industry-2014-4; https://www.oboolo.com/business-market/business-strategy/case-study/nike-s-outsourcing-strategy-77875.html [6] The Corporation (2003) written by University of British Columbia law professor Joel Bakan and directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott. [7] https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/23/business/coronavirus-carmakers-luxury/index.html [8] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/03/climate/carbon-dioxide-emissions.html [9] https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/23/business/coronavirus-carmakers-luxury/index.html [10] https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/blog/contagion-the-systemic-risks-of-globalisation/ [11] https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/a-battlefield-behind-your-home-covid-19-deaths-mount-in-new-york-1.4877389 [12] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/04/why-covid-might-hit-african-nations-hardest/609760/ [13] https://www.africanews.com/2020/04/10/coronavirus-in-africa-breakdown-of-infected-virus-free-countries/; https://africanarguments.org/2020/04/16/coronavirus-in-africa-tracker-how-many-cases-and-where-latest/ [14] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/04/why-covid-might-hit-african-nations-hardest/609760/ [15] Thank you to Danielle Franco for sharing this point with me. [16] https://nationalpost.com/news/covid-19-federal-deficit-projected-to-reach-184b-as-economic-response-rolled-out

[17] In Mexico, it has been reported that over a trillion pesos in taxes is owed by big businesses who refuse to pay in an attempt to bankrupt the controversial leftist Morena government. President Obrador has called upon the other political parties to donate half of their party budgets to help with the Covid 19 economic response plan; he has been refused by two of the country’s most powerful parties who ludicrously claim that it is illegal for them to “deliver goods or services to the people.” The Morena government has scraped together $10 billion US that is available from various “rainy day funds” along with “buffers” for the economy from a stabilization fund of about $6.6 billion. He is being criticized for this not being enough (which it isn’t)—even though the wealthy, the big businesses and the opposition parties are crippling any attempt to commit as much aide as possible to protect the Mexican people and keep the country financially afloat. https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2020/04/23/hasta-donde-nos-alcance-lopez-obrador-ofrece-millones-de-creditos-de-25000-pesos-a-la-palabra/;

https://www.sinembargo.mx/08-04-2020/3763869; https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-economy/mexican-president-pitches-frugal-economic-plan-against-coronavirus-idUSKBN21N0VA; https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/politica/ilegal-que-partidos-donen-dinero-para-enfrentar-al-covid-19-murayama [18] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/supply-chains-and-coronavirus/608329/ [19] https://forge.medium.com/prepare-for-the-ultimate-gaslighting-6a8ce3f0a0e0


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