The Pandemic Is a Portal

Arundhati Roy, writing in the Financial Times:

But unlike the flow of capital, this virus seeks proliferation, not profit, and has, therefore, inadvertently, to some extent, reversed the direction of the flow. It has mocked immigration controls, biometrics, digital surveillance and every other kind of data analytics, and struck hardest — thus far — in the richest, most powerful nations of the world, bringing the engine of capitalism to a juddering halt. Temporarily perhaps, but at least long enough for us to examine its parts, make an assessment and decide whether we want to help fix it, or look for a better engine.


Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

There are two clear lessons I hope we draw from this situation that, months ago, I would find unfathomable. The first is that we desperately need competent, transparent, and humble leadership at all levels. I feel somewhat lucky in that respect, but not entirely so; I understand that not everyone is so fortunate.

The second lesson that we should learn is that we need to care for the wellbeing of one another long before we are forced to do so. It should be abundantly clear that even small vulnerabilities are exacerbated when they are tested.

The “normal” that I hope we return to is one in which we are once again free to travel, gather as friends, go to shows, eat and drink at new restaurants and bars, and spend more time together. But that should not mean going back to underpaying people in positions that have always been vital; we should not underestimate the strengthening qualities of good governance, public research, and civil service.