Change a mind, change a system

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The coronavirus has shown us how inefficient capitalism is at responding to and preparing crises, if we don’t act now, we won’t be able to later.


By Jack Phillips

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 5 of VARSITY News.


If anything has shown us that capitalism does not work, then it is the coronavirus. This is if by “work” we mean the “utopian” and “theoretical” concepts of dignity and equality for the majority of South Africans and a habitable planet in the foreseeable future. If anything has cast a glaring light onto the fact that capitalism handsomely serves the few at the dire expense of the many, then it is the coronavirus. If there is any time to try to find a better way, it is now.


After the SARS epidemic, it was clear that more epidemics would be to come, but drug companies did nothing to prepare, as Noam Chomsky has said, “They follow good capitalist logic: you look at the market signals, and there’s no profit to be made in preparing for a predicted and anticipated catastrophe”.


This “good capitalist logic” has other applications too, the same system that wouldn’t (no, not couldn’t) prepare for a viral catastrophe, won’t (and doesn’t) prepare us for the oncoming climactic one.


But of course, those in power and position, with the politicians in their pockets, are in no hurry. They’ll make sure their interests are catered to. They can always move when the sea levels rise or get direct treatment at a private hospital when they get the virus, or self-isolate in a large, comfortable room. They cannot be depended on to change anything for the betterment of the majority, and actually, why should they? The current state of affairs is a comfortable one for them. Heck, if the government hadn’t stopped them, they’d still be hoarding medical supplies, or jacking up the prices of essential goods. It’s just supply and demand. It’s just: Good. Capitalist. Logic.


That leaves us. This virus has shown us that the system we live under still leaves some people obdurately poorer than others, and this wealth and poverty are divided along enduring racial lines. It doesn’t take a university degree, all you have to do is look at the streets, and you can see it, and unless you’re a bitter racist, you have to notice that there’s something wrong here.


What can we do about it? A lot. But to start, we can do some consciousness raising. The North American feminist movement popularised a form of activism called consciousness raising, because if you asked a womxn in the 20’s if she were oppressed, she would lack the slightest clue as to what you’re talking about. That’s because we’re raised in this world, always taught that this is the way things are, never seeing nor thinking about radical change, or if things could be better.


I think this university is pretty conscious, I think we know what the problems are, but if you ask someone on the street if they’re oppressed, you might get the same response from them as you would’ve from a womxn in the 20’s. Perhaps they know that things are unfair, perhaps they know they suffer, but they know not why. We can’t fight this fight alone, and if our brothers and sisters can’t see it, it’s our job to show them.



This section of VARSITY is a vehicle for expression on any topic by members of the UCT community. The opinions within this section are not necessarily those of the VARSITY collective or its advertisers.


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