No resolutions

Published December 29, 2021
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

IT is the usual way to begin the last column of a year that has dragged on, and that looks too much like the catastrophic year before it. At the end of enduring it, one expects to be left with some things achieved, some others shelved and yet others hovering ambiguously over the horizon. In this mess, one is supposed to pick up the shards and bits, and fashion some plans for the new year — some ‘resolutions’, if you will.

Except that this is no ordinary year. If the end of last year and the beginning of 2021 required us to muster all the courage we had and manage to bear the collective toll of too many dead and with no real cure in sight, the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 requires us to stop holding on and get rid of that which no longer serves us.

Read more: Endings, closures and sequels: How the story of 2021 unfolded on the world stage

There is a terrible lot that falls into this category. There are institutions that were made for a world where participation required a physical presence, all of us living and breathing on one another. There are expectations that were fashioned in a world where people moved easily and physically and often. Such was the ubiquity of presence that in many cases it added up to mean ‘work’ and was the basis of monetary remuneration. Nobody knew the difference between a PCR test and a rapid test. We ate and drank and talked with an innocence, a naiveté that we will not recover in 2022.

Some are insisting on retaining the old ways. One morning show host, with a fickleness typical to the category, announced the other day that people should fill cinema halls and support the flailing local industry — I suppose even if it means becoming numbers in a pandemic of an airborne virus. Those numbers, the gift of Omicron, are not simply rising; they are skyrocketing. According to the US Centres for Disease Control, America alone is supposed to reach a million cases of Covid-19 a day by mid-January — this in a country where 61 per cent of the population has been double vaccinated and many have received a booster dose of the most effective Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines.

The point is to highlight a truth that we absolutely must face as the year ends: the way we did things is gone forever.

Closer to home, the situation in China is also expected to be dire. A study that was done in Hong Kong recently revealed that even three doses of the popular SinoVac vaccine do not provide immunity against the Omicron strain. The Sinopharm vaccine has also been found to have lower efficacy against Omicron. It is not surprising that a few days ago the Chinese reported the greatest daily surge in several months in cases of the Omicron variant. This has particular relevance for Pakistan, where weddings, social gatherings, offices and educational institutions have all gone back to functioning as normal.

A surge of the Omicron variant will likely make its way to the region sooner rather than later and once again will lead to a ‘soft lockdown’ where things are closed because people are sick. It is also important to remember that while the severity of disease from Omicron is supposed to be less than from earlier variants, one particular group being more affected than others are children. According to the Guardian, children’s hospitals in the US are filling up as children are reported to be getting sick at a much higher rate than they were previously.

Given all these facts and realities, none of which are likely to change in the near future, 2022 requires ’re-conceptualisations’ rather than resolutions. Constant school closures owing to environmental hazards and now disease mean that our structures of providing instructions are no longer able to function in the way that we meant them to. Rethinking this may necessitate changes in the way children go to school and what they are able to do there.

Existing and widely accessible technology such as mobile phones may have to be repurposed to provide basic literacy and instruction to students. For older students the means and methods of online education may have to be transformed so as to provide instruction in a way that they understand and learn. Similarly, in a world where we spend more time inside the home and in small groups, time needs to be allotted to see how we can make that life richer, more interesting and entertaining as we focus inward after having spent centuries focused on public interactions.

These are just examples, but the point is to highlight a truth that we absolutely must face as the year ends. The way we did things is gone forever; the ideas, the institutions, the structures that the world at large had constructed to fulfil intended functions do not work anymore; the pandemic may end, but new interruptions and cessations will take its place, exposing the same inadequacies, failures of design, of imagination, of organisation that we see now. Even as we may detest it, we are being propelled forward, even as we try our hardest to hold on to what we have known and the way we have lived.

It is evident that around the world democratic institutions are failing at delivering participatory democracy, healthcare institutions are unable to handle the care required by those afflicted by the pandemic and the aging populations, while educational institutions are struggling to deliver instruction. The list is long and the consequences are great. At the end of the year, we must understand that our collective frustration is directly related to this protracted, worldwide inflection point. The best hope we can have for 2022 is to be able to view a more sustained vision of the new world, its galvanising ideas, its transformed structures so that we are no longer afraid and finally hopeful.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2021

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