COVID-19 Was Never The Enemy
Though more prominent in the United States, the urge to portray our encounter with COVID-19 as a war to be won has been evident here, as well. While useful from a public health and mobilization stand-point, however, framing the last year as a battle also distracts from the more nuanced reality of the pandemic.
Though it is certainly tempting to frame COVID-19 as an antagonist, attacking cities from beyond like some unwelcome guest to be purged, the truth is that COVID-19 remains relatively benign as enemies go. It did not show up with any agenda. It has not purposely targeted specific institutions or groups based on an ideological content.
Instead, what COVID-19 has done is highlight our continued embeddedness in ecological localities and the porous inter-dependencies that exist between human communities and the nonhuman environment.
On the one hand, for example, COVID-19 has highlighted the many ways in which our political systems and institutions remain unprepared for a changing environment. While many have already pointed out the several ways in which our healthcare and long-term care systems were unprepared for this type of event, others have highlighted the ways in which our agricultural industries, climate change, and more have made these types of events more likely moving forward.
By extension, COVID-19 sheds light on the shortcomings of a modern form of governance that sees institutions and technologies as pressed upon a subjugated natural space. COVID-19 has reminded us that governance unfolds within these webs of tentacularity and that, try as we might, the organic remains at the heart of communal space. These lines of flight between public and wild imbues relationality with a certain unpredictability, the supposedly subdued and expelled ready to burst forth onto the scene at any moment.
Simply put, COVID-19 has reminded us that communities, and the people that live in them, remain porous - the barrier between inside and outside perpetually unstable. This porosity is an inevitable facet of being organic in an organic world and may even get worse if we continue to develop along exploitative and extractive logics.
Rather than judging communities based on their rigidity in the face of a supposedly external enemy, then, COVID-19 provides an opportunity to reimagine governance in the face of a constitutive vulnerability.
In practical terms, this means that, if our institutions are not prepared to handle our relationship to an unpredictable environment of our making, the problem is not the canvas. And instead of blaming individual politicians for choosing between small businesses and public health, perhaps it is time to ask bigger questions about social and economic systems that have left local businesses out to dry while big box stores thrive.
As glad as we will all be to be rid of COVID-19, it would be dangerous to believe that we have expelled a beast from our otherwise orderly cities. Instead, the pandemic has shed light on the disorderly interdependencies that continue to shape public space.
Rather than a war to be won, perhaps the pandemic is an opportunity to re-acknowledge the complicated relationships that we've been neglecting.