Everything is connected. Most non-Western cultures understand this. I first learnt about African belief systems as an African Studies undergrad, realising that the idea that nothing exists alone is a cornerstone of philosophical thought.
The importance of the relationships between things is central to African metaphysics. In contrast, the British consumer culture imposed on much of the continent during the period of colonisation in the 19th and 20th centuries and the globalisation that followed, emphasised the importance of the consumption of things.
In my doctoral research on the formation of subjectivity, I have examined how the economic, moral and political systems of the Global North established the sacrosanct status of the “individual”. The atomised nature of our society, organised into tiny nuclear family units, preoccupied with the pursuit of personal interest at the expense of broader community concerns, is reproduced in our approach to both social and environmental justice. Unsustainable short-term gains are pursued at great cost to life, both human and non-human, with devastating long-term consequences. Problems are approached as single issues, untethered from the existing framework that created them. As a result, “solutions” tend to be inadequate and piecemeal, failing to address the root causes of our problems. Endless economic “growth”, and its agents, production and consumption, have led to a world in which the destruction of the earth’s resources is the price we pay for “development”.
There is a consensus that Covid-19 was transmitted to the human population through a species jump. The conditions that facilitated this are a direct result of the extractive processes that drive the pursuit of endless growth. Human population increase, in a world where wealth and resources are hoarded by a minority, means that millions are left to eke out livelihoods in circumstances of deprivation and grinding poverty. In the resulting conditions, overcrowding can lead to dangerous proximity between humans and infected wildlife. In turn this creates greater potential for viral spillover.
Deforestation is another concern. Environmental exploitation is another by-product of our global economic system. The poverty it perpetuates is sometimes exacerbated by conditions placed by the international community on their loans. A study published in April 2020 found that where deforestation leaves only small patches of intact forest, it increases the likelihood of pathogens making the leap from animals to human beings.
Similarly, the global industrialisation of meat production plays a role creating the ideal conditions for pathogens to pass from wild animals into overcrowded, unhygienic livestock farms.
“Why has the pandemic brought all these issues to the fore at once?” I hear people say. “Why do we have to have a Black Lives Matter protest in the middle of a pandemic?” It’s because coronavirus has shown us that our way of life is unbearable for many and unsustainable for us all. As lockdowns begin to ease it is apparent that we cannot return to business as usual.
The same oppressive systems that disregard women, disregard the environment, disregard the fact that Black Lives Matter, cannot be allowed to continue to set the agenda. We must listen to the warning shots the earth has sounded. We must listen to the voices of those at the margins, those forced to scream that their lives do indeed matter. We must remember that everything is connected and seek to restore their balance.