Underlying the tragedy that the Covid-19 pandemic is, lies a conflict which is quite clearly revealed, if not yet resolved, by the extent of that catastrophe. We’re referring to the political/economic conflict between the public and private sectors of our lives.
For decades neo-liberal thought has argued the superiority of the private sector in terms of quality and efficiency, and yet, now, when put to the real test, that private sector has shown itself completely incapable of tackling the most pressing problems (health and security) created by this crisis. In fact, the pandemic has stripped the private sector bare of all its lofty pretensions, revealing its absolute impotence, while promoting the power of the public sector as the only force capable of dealing with crisis.
In a few months, the pandemic has dealt a crippling blow to our private-sector-friendly world, throwing the system into a melt-down, and exposing its failings in such a way that it has to be asked who the system was built for in the first place. If it was built for society, why has it proved so incapable of protecting society in times of crisis (not just in this crisis but in any tragic time)? The answer is clear, the private sector is not designed for the authentic needs of a society as a whole, but for the surplus needs and fantasies of the wealthy, who are the only ones who really benefit from the private-sector economy.
This revelation has to be taken seriously, and regarded as a positive lesson as we approach the challenges of the greater tragedy within which the pandemic has emerged – the tragedy of the climate emergency.
Like all tragedies, the pandemic generates both fear and pity, but also the idea of reconciliation, which, as Hegel points out in his Aesthetics, comes from “the glimpse of eternal justice”[i] that it affords. Hegel goes on to say:
“In its absolute way, this justice overrides the relative justification of one-sided aims and passions because it cannot suffer the conflict and contradiction of ethical powers which according to their concept must be unified to be victorious and permanent in true actuality.”[ii]
According to Miguel de Beistegui, Hegel believed tragedy to “awaken in us the feeling of the necessity of the reconciliation of the powers of ethical life.”[iii]
The pandemic is not a tragic work, but a tragedy experienced, endured and suffered by hundreds of millions of people throughout the world. Nevertheless, this real rather than fictional or literaryform of tragedy does not diminish the level of calamity with it, rather it exacerbates it.
Of course, writing from the very midst of the real, may seem to argue against the author’s credentials by accusing him of a severe lack of objectivity, but the very act of analysing the crisis from the point-of-view of the aesthetics of tragedy does, in fact, proportion an objectivity.
What the tragedy of the pandemic has shown us is that the tragic figure lies in the private area whilst the hero of this epic disaster is the public sector. This is not the typical tragic tale of the fall of an over-ambitious individual, but that of the collapse of a whole, over-ambitious system. That is the great revelation and hope that this current disaster affords us.
The shock we are experiencing today, is an age-old one that exists in all tragic art; it is the clash between rights and duties. But once exposed, the weaknesses of one must succumb to the virtues of the other in order for a necessary, mutual co-existence to be feasible in a sustainable way in harmony with the natural world and its laws. A natural world that will, like the gods, destroy us if such a co-belonging cannot be resolved.
As Beistegui says in his essay on the tragic in Hegel: “The revelation, the true stake of tragedy, is the proper mark of the Destiny which imposes itself as the absolutely rational in which Spirit is reconciled with itself.”[iv]
Our actual world, smitten by a profound nihilism that has been seeping into its fabric for the last hundred and fifty years, seems bereft of Destiny … Perhaps it is, or has been, but the current tragedy has unveiled the enormous errors of our system and the desperate need for it to reconcile its most antagonistic forces. In this way, the tragic scenario we are currently immersed in has to be seen as intrinsically necessary and, because of that, essentially positive.
We have evolved in a rapacious way, away from the natural world which also constitutes and ultimately conditions our own natures. It is now time for humanity to look for an authentic destiny through which our own sapiens’ dimension can be realised and developed. We stand now exposed as a species, and despite the horror, we need to understand that we can, we now have the opportunity to, elevate ourselves through this challenge by allowing the heroic-side of our societies, the public sector, to take the lead.
The tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic is the tragedy of the audaciousness of capitalism. Capitalism has a tremendous pride in itself and pride attracts the wrath of hubris, which paints all cruel self-satisfaction with the tar of tragedy. Like Oedipus, capitalism has perverted the laws of nature with its arrogant own laws of perpetual growth. It has ravaged and slaughtered in a consciously self-profiting way, like Macbeth, which is also an unethical way. Our world is like Hamlet’s Denmark and we all know something is rotten in the State. However, after the pandemic has left the State stripped naked and infirm, Fortinbras arrives in the form of the public sector to rebuild the empire. In this sense, the reconciliation has to come through the off-stage reconstruction. After the tragedy the revolution.
Read PANDEMIC (Part Two): our tragedy https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/pauladkin.wordpress.com/3354
[i] Hegel, ÄSTHETIK III: 526
[iii] Beistegui, M. & Sparks, S., PHILOSOPHY AND TRAGEDY, Routledge, 2000, p. 11