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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 33, New Delhi, July 31, 2021

Covid-19 Pandemic and the Political: Deficient Political Worldwide | Kunal Kumar Yadav

Friday 30 July 2021


by Kunal Kumar Yadav *

         Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event in history. For the first time a pandemic has affected the humanity on such a large scale. It has affected the social, political and economic aspects of the human life in equally devastating manner. The pandemic has brought an unprecedented political problem in front of the mankind. Political is basically the articulation of the public events in a democratic manner. The pandemic has affected the Political in a devastating manner completely bringing it to a devastating halt due to the lack of any public event.

          People generally disagree over what ‘political’ signifies. There is a vast difference in opinion over what political signifies for different people due to the differences in their ideological perspective. Importantly, people’s ideas about what is political relate systematically to their reported political interest, attention to politics, frequency of disagreement and number of political discussants. Politics has to do with the ‘ontic’ while the political has to do with the ‘ontological’ in Heideggerian sense. It means that the ‘ontic’ has to do with the manifold practices of the conventional politics and the ontological has to do with the very way in which the society is instituted. Some theorists like Hannah Arendt see the ‘political’ as a sphere of freedom and public deliberation while others see it as a sphere of power, conflict and antagonism. Chantal Mouffe describes the political as the dimension of antagonism which the human society takes to constitute the society. Liberalism is based mainly on the rationalist and individualist conception of the human being and Carl Schmitt and Chantal Mouffe state that this liberalism based notion of the individual clearly negates the political as it forecloses any possibility of antagonism. Liberalism sees the individual as the ultimate point of reference negating any collective identity. But the political can never be eradicated as it derives its energy from the most varied human endeavors: every religious, moral, ethical, economical and other antithesis transforms itself into the political if it is sufficiently strong enough to group human beings according to their political interests. Political has been described in an instrumental, aggregative form by some while some have described it as communicative ones where rational consensus could be achieved by the moral agents in the society. Political always represents the structure of the power relations and it is in this way it is distinguished from the social.

      Covid-19 pandemic has adversely affected the political due to the confinement of the individuals in their houses worldwide, adversely affecting the public life. Political is constituted by the public sphere where the rational individuals articulate the political interests according to the norms of the public deliberations. Public life constitutes the political through the public deliberations through various channels of communications in a democracy. Public decisions are taken by the government and these decisions are then further articulated by the public which acts as the feedback through the public channels for further acting as the base for public decisions. According to the system theory in political science the public institutions get the feedback through various public channels and the feedbacks act as the point of reference for further decision making in the society by the public institutions. The politics which represents the ‘ontic’ aspect of the individual and the society as such has not been affected by the pandemic as the political has been affected which represents the ‘ontological’ aspect of the individual and the society. The public institutions which are democratic in nature, has a constitutive and articulate role in deciding this ontological which represents the political. The constitutive part of the political institutions is still intact due their constitutional nature and it has not been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. What has been affected by the world wide pandemic of Covid-19 is the articulate nature of the public institutions which are democratic in nature. Public institutions worldwide have suspended their articulative responsibility leading to the singular decision making political structure in the society lacking any articulate capacity.

          The society losing its democratic culture due to the Covid-19 pandemic has lost its democratic nature worldwide and has entered a new phase what is known as the ‘society of the spectacle’ in the words of Guy Debord. Debord was deeply distressed by the hegemony of governments and media over everyday life through mass production and consumption. Debord postulated that Alienation had gained a new relevance through the invasive forces of the ’spectacle’ — "a social relation between people that is mediated by images" consisting of mass media, advertisement, and popular culture. The spectacle is a self-fulfilling control mechanism for society. Debord’s analysis developed the notions of "reification" and "fetishism of the commodity" pioneered by Karl Marx and Georg Lukács. Debord traces the development of a modern society in which authentic social life has been replaced with its representation: "All that once was directly lived has become mere representation." Debord argues that the history of social life can be understood as "the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing." This condition, according to Debord, is the "historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life”. The spectacle is the inverted image of society in which relations between commodities have supplanted relations between people, in which "passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity". "The spectacle is not a collection of images," Debord writes, rather, it is a social relation among people, mediated by images.

        The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the society into the ‘society of the spectacle’ in which the online media and the internet has taken over each and every aspect of the human life. Most of the office work worldwide is being conducted through online mode including education. This replacement of the actual human presence in the public or private institutions through the virtual mode of communication has led to the alienation of the individuals and the workers worldwide in the Marxist sense and the society has been turned into what has been called as the ‘society of the spectacle’ in Guy Debord’s word. The reduction of the ‘actual’ content of the society in the form of human presence into ‘virtual’ form of mere representation and appearance through the virtual media network has significantly eroded the social bond between the individuals, which in turn, has adversely affected the political. Political as the sphere of articulation of disagreements and differences among the individuals of the society has lost itself into mere virtual and representational dimension of virtual media and private network. This disappearance of the ‘public’ from the ‘Political’ has significantly affected the institutional base of the authority in the human society worldwide. The public institutions and the public authorities have become less democratic worldwide and the virtual representation of the society in the sphere of virtual private social media network or professional media network cannot be a equal replacement of the actual human presence in the public or private institutions of the society. This lack of the ‘’actual’’ from the public is the real cause of the dysfunctional ‘political’ in the society. The society is being mediated through the images in the virtual world of electronic media rather than the actual presence of the humans in the society and this has suspended the ‘political’ in the virtual network of the images. Society is functioning through its virtual representation due to the pandemic rather than actual participation of the people in the institutions of the society which has led to a dysfunctional and lacking ‘political’ worldwide. Only the actual presence of the public in the institutions can make the political meaningful in the society in real sense.

(Author: Dr. Kunal Kumar Yadav, Assistant Professor, Political Science, S.N. Sinha College, Gaya, Magadh University, Bodhgaya, Bihar, India)

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