Illustration by Baraa Al Jorf

Covid-19 and Our Species

Our fast-paced, goal-driven lives run on a cycle of exploitation. In the wake of the ongoing pandemic, it becomes clear that our economic system and lifestyle poses a threat to humanity. Covid-19 must be a time for reflection.

Few cars dot the roads. Fewer people walk the streets. Malls, parks and museums are empty and closed to the public. I haven’t witnessed the outside world in weeks. A sort of calm has befallen most of the world. Paradoxically, it’s a calm driven by a chaos that we are mostly helpless in the face of.
Life for most — whether through falling ill or simply undertaking preventive measures — has been limited, forcing us to live within the constraints our earliest ancestors experienced. Even though we may not think of it so consciously anymore, the limits on transportation, going outside only for essential purposes and other such restrictions are reminders that our common primary goal is survival. The most significant reminder, however, is that we live on a planet that is populated by much more than humans. Our world does not revolve around us alone. We’ve succumbed to entities much tinier than us, which is something we haven’t experienced this significantly and collectively in about a hundred years.
Yet, the stillness that haunts the exterior world does not penetrate the walls most of us are now confined to, and the reminders it brings are fleeting. Within the confines, there is still pressure to live life as we would in a less plagued world. Most of us continue to push ourselves to do the things we would normally do. While this is a testament to the human spirit, it points to a fundamental flaw in the system we’ve built to survive. Amid an all-consuming crisis, no one should have to feel the need to function in the exact same way they did before. No one should have to prioritize going to work for the sake of making money over their health. Yet we do. I myself am guilty of this. Superficially, such a reaction seems to make sense. We shouldn’t let something out of our control stop us from doing the things we can control, right? A lot of people depend on physically going to work every day to survive, so it’s not a question of choice, right?
This line of thought feels rational, but it is ultimately a result of the commodification we have subjected ourselves to over centuries. We view ourselves as goods put to use to produce results. In some cases, it’s a matter of survival, and in others, it’s one of feeling useful. But it doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be this way. Both the capitalist system and our own poisoned mindsets do not allow us to live decent lives without putting ourselves at risk. While there should be room for space to process, cope and help without simultaneously experiencing financial strain, this fails to be a reality. Most importantly, this work-at-all-costs perspective should not only be revamped mentally and socially, but also through the governments which are inherently tasked with taking care of their citizens and residents, especially in times like these. And while some have taken steps to this effect, most have perpetuated the system. The spread of the Covid-19 even increased due to the slowness and hesitancy of governments across the world in closing down certain industries, workplaces and schools. This is a perfect example of how capitalism commodifies human lives to turn labor and work into profit and how this can directly endanger human life.
What’s worse is that this endangerment is unequal. The system we currently live under has exacerbated inequality in the face of a pandemic, which, if survival is truly our primary concern, is ironic. It highlights the hierarchical nature of survival. Those in the middle or at the bottom often don’t even have access to what they help build. Asymptomatic celebrities appear to have more access to Covid-19 testing than healthcare workers at the frontlines do. For people who preach equality, we tend to do little to change a system that prioritizes having the most over the equal distribution of resources. Whether we realize it or not, our views on success and the system they build off of make victims of those who simply do not have and are never afforded the resources to make it to the top. And this is made so much clearer when you consider how, in these times where survival is at stake, some people are worried about dying of hunger while the thought does not even cross others’ minds.
Still, in spite of the glaring inequality and internal strife that has recently come about, the pandemic-induced reconsideration of what is important and what is trivial has resulted in our lives now revolving primarily around mere survival. We have been put on equal footing, at least in theory, as a single species fighting a common enemy. Regardless of the loss in translation between the privileged and the oppressed, we have slowed our lives down to some extent. As a result, we’ve come closer to being in equilibrium with our natural environment, evidenced by significant drops in greenhouse gas emissions, pollutants and changing city soundscapes. We ought to retain this equilibrium. Our fast-paced, goal-driven lives, which run on a cycle of exploitation, have essentially been deemed unsustainable. Success should not come at the cost of survival, human or otherwise. We must either slow ourselves down, reflect and at least attempt to change the system, or the increased hazards of our current way of life will forcibly slow all of us down over the coming centuries, if not decades.
Naeema Sageer is a contributing writer. Email her at
gazelle logo