COVID-19 Op-ed

Mental Despair and Thinking Politics in the time of COVID-19

Fernando Ximenes

Covid-19 is Real and Symbolic: A Personal BattleOn Friday (20 March 2020,) my sister told me that Timor-Leste had detected its first one positive Covid-19 case. I remembered that time, I was not feeling too well, and had a cough. At the time, my heart started beating really faster, with shortened breath, and I developed a panic attack worrying that I might also catch one as we were not clear whether the virus was airborne transmitted or whether the affected person is a Timorese or malae  (foreigner) that work in Dili.I woke up with back-pain and fever the next morning. I was thinking this is perhaps due to the community work after the flood in Dili that is lasted the capital for three days of wasteful urban desert. Then, that’s when the Ministry of Health made the announcement to confirm the rumor that Timor-Leste has it first case and it was a malae. The situation was fraught as there is no clear information and leaving many of us in confusion and people turned panic.Like many going through this crisis, I passed through weeks of mental deflation. Every night before I fall asleep, I was intensely inseparable from extreme modes of solitude – very often I ended up in feeling melancholia. This feeling terrorized me for weeks but the cares from home has helped a lot to reduce my stress. Love is that reign in my rarely loneliness and anxious time. What I worried the most is not about my personal health, but more of the fear of me spreading the virus to the others and my family. The viral has forced us to confront such invisible threat. I’ve come into terms with my fear is based on the absence of adequate and quality national healthcare system.For many years, the government spends a huge sum of money to send high-risk patients (mostly veterans and privileged politicians families) for medical treatment abroad, instead of developing a quality national healthcare system that can help us to prepare in facing this pandemic.Instead of building a local and independent economy, the government preferred to send young people to work as cheap laborers in capitalist countries such as Australia and South Korea and many have choose to migrate into United Kingdom to work as exploited manufacturing labor. Instead of coming up with government policies to tackling the socio-economic inequality, exploitation and unemployment problems, the government continues to neglect it and the wealth-power-privilege has concentrated mostly in capital Dili.As a student activist, I am totally skeptic towards institutionalized politics under the so-called representativeness liberal democracy. The lack of trust caused by a systematic discontentment is a clear result from a growing ‘democratic malaise’ in Timor-Leste, for instance the unending political impasse. To make it worse, Timor-Leste society as a whole also lacks of alternative thinking.Our Normal is whyWe are SufferingEven before COVID-19, End of History has not really “ended”, as Francis Fukuyama would’ve predicted. The Keynesian’s state interventionist has returned to many countries. Capitalist mode of social reproduction has facing its emergency internal contradiction and crisis. Now that COVID-19 is ravaging our societies, the neoliberal system is now in agony. Practically, global crisis of supply chain will emerge if the situation of emergency/lockdown accompany with massive economic suspension continue across the nations, particularly on dependent-state with depeasantization of local farmers such as Timor-Leste.After all, the new possibility has not come to exist – a new horizon of real politics that might bring a real common solution to our common problem. Without overruning into newness politics, COVID-19 will simply reveal the evil faces of our normality, rather than forced us on real changes (Badiou, 2005.)Whether unconscious or not, we are totally subjugated, and only with a capacity of recognizing oneself in this chaotic natural event and invisible forces imposed on us, we are able to recognized the irony within ourselves. With willingness, we can alienate it radically in order to liberate us. It compels us to move away from impure objective order of the current impasse (crisis of liberal capitalist world) in order to confront the actual ideological constellation.Only with this, we can ensure the safe passage of an inadequate same-boat into another possibility of a new real – a new normal (Zizek, 2020.) Such will enable a paradigm shift from fetishistic normality of neoliberal capitalist order that has melted, since Covid-19 became a pandemic. Embracing the new normal can direct and guarantee our rights, freedom and emancipation of our life.References:Badiou, Alain (2005). Metapolitics. London and New York: Verso.Žižek, Slavoj. (2020). Pandemic: COVID-19 Shakes the World. New York and London: OR Books. ___________________________________ Newness refers to Alain Badiou’s Event-truth that interrupted the rationality of objective reality and to break from law of repetition.

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