Defend Truth


So much time to think, so much to think about


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

The fact that we are in lockdown suggests we have a lot of time on our hands. Time to think, among other things. But what is the phenomenon of thinking and do we do enough of it?

Cogito ergo sum: “I think therefore I am”, are famous words spoken by the philosopher Descartes, at a time when he argued that “we cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt”. In other words, “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.”

This proposition by Descartes became a fundamental element of Western philosophy, as it purported to form a secure foundation for knowledge in the face of radical doubt. While other knowledge could be a figment of imagination, deception, or mistake, Descartes asserted that the very act of doubting one’s own existence served at a minimum as proof of the reality of one’s own mind. There must be a thinking entity, in this case the self, for there to be a thought.

So, now I have your attention and the fact that you are indeed perusing the recesses of your mind about this statement from Descartes and wondering whether you do exist, let alone whether you do think. With this sort of thinking in mind and now encouraged, let’s think about some more serious matters. The self, first and foremost. 

How are you coping with this pandemic, with the family and indeed with your own stresses and demons during this lockdown period? After this pandemic, if you survive, will you still love your partner, care about your family and still see your role as a breadwinner? Will we happily return to work and school as if we had not experienced a different way of participating in the world of work and school? 

Will we abandon the virtual reality we had just come from? Do we need to spend so much money on teachers and physical materials (books and worksheets)? (Education will never be the same, as an entire generation of teachers and learners have now experienced how easily tools like Google Classroom and Snapplify’s digital textbooks allow one to operate remotely.) Can our Cabinet reduce significant costs by meeting virtually instead of flying up and down from Cape Town?

Office workers will waste less time in traffic as meetings are conducted over Zoom or Microsoft Teams. A whole cohort of managers will have learnt to manage the output of professional workers rather than checking whether they are in their cubicle on time.

Have you thought about whether you are in the right job and career at this point in your life? I wanted to be so much more at this stage in my life, shall I make a change now? Would it be too disruptive for my employer and perhaps my family? Can I afford the sacrifice, financially and mentally? Shit – so much time and thinking.

After this pandemic, if you survive, will the world really change and if so, will it be for the better or for the worse? Will the world and its current structures take stock of the inequities that remain a reality, and how it took a simple and deadly virus to bring that reality to the fore? What can we say about these structures that sustain a very skewed global economic architecture and selfish financial systems governed by the World Bank, IMF and WTO, all of which are dominated by the West, North America and Europe?

Arundhati Roy some time back told us that, “Soviet-style communism failed not because it was intrinsically evil but because it was flawed. It allowed too few people to usurp too much power. 21st Century market capitalism, American style, will fail for the same reasons. Both are edifices constructed by human intelligence, undone by human nature. The time has come, the Walrus said, perhaps things will become worse and then better. Perhaps… another world is not only possible, she’s on her way. Maybe many of us won’t be here to greet her but on a quiet day if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing”. 

It would be nice if this occurs. But we just don’t know. We don’t know for certain because of human nature. The “realist” view of the world remains the dominant theory today, I’m afraid. The world is anarchic and there is no global power that can mitigate and/or control such anarchy; hence, you are left to your own devices as a country. 

“The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

So, the question you should be preoccupied with during this lockdown period is perhaps, what will be my contribution to avoid such human nature? What can I do to contribute meaningfully to society at large in our world, to make a difference? 

Get involved in progressive activities around the climate crisis or even just making sure that South Africa never again falls prey to State Capture and widespread corruption. Get involved in a charity to help the less fortunate.

Or maybe just the simplest things in life. Care for and love your partner more, care for and spend more time with your children or decide to cut down on three sugars in your tea or coffee, for one’s health cannot remain an afterthought.    

Arundhati Roy asks, “What is this thing that has happened to us? It’s a virus, yes. In and of itself it holds no moral brief. But it is definitely more than a virus. Some believe it’s God’s way of bringing us to our senses. Others that it’s a Chinese conspiracy to take over the world.  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.”

Can we expect a new world order after corona? Can you change for the better as a person? Can the world change?

It is clear that “the market” cannot solve our challenges; there are hardly enough protective masks, ventilators, and test kits globally during this pandemic. The US has reverted to pirate-like practices, literally stealing out of self-interest. Moody’s and Fitch are playing politics by downgrading South Africa’s investment status, it doesn’t take a genius to know exactly why the downgrades come at this very vulnerable time… fuck the Third World during this time is the sentiment, take all our money back to Western markets where it is needed more now, due to the pandemic. And because loans from us in the developing world will now be at a premium, the West will yet again stand to benefit immensely during this period of crisis. So, when we all come out the other side, the West will look better than the rest of us, as usual.

Arundhati Roy continues: “The good news is that some and maybe many new businesses will thrive in the new normal. Online enterprises (shopping, banking, stockbroking), and data providers have all received a welcome boost during the lockdown and many of their newly acquired customers will never revert to older, slower, expensive and manual ways again.”

And so, will we all change after this period?

I doubt, therefore I think, therefore, I am. You should do the same. THINK. And remember, behind every action there’s a thought…

Be safe and stay at home! DM


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