For some order out of the mess

At the end of the day, it always boils down to human behaviour. We are the ones who create our own mess

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Just as we were looking forward to ending 2020 feeling relatively free from the year-long tension due to the Covid pandemic, ‘the shit hit the ceiling fan’ — as the saying goes – and muck started to spray all around, spoiling the social atmosphere. A succession of as yet unexplained deaths has led to revelations each one murkier than the other. The legal battles that have been initiated look set to be protracted. However, it is hoped that they will be shorter-lived – that is, that the truth(s) be established as soon as possible – and not drag on for an indeterminate period as seems likely to be the scenario for the pandemic, not expected by best estimates to be brought under control for at least a few years. Not to speak of economic recovery and the longer lag before our world gets back to another normal.

Point is, ever since these ‘affairs’ erupted on the local scene, social media is full of all the sordid details of the goings-on on a 24/7 basis. There is news reporting to keep people abreast of the relevant information that will help them follow developments in the cases, but no one can deny that there is a surfeit of all kinds of unwarranted comments and speculations which pop up on one’s apps, and which one has to waste precious time in deleting every so often. What a pity that we have to continue to wallow in such dirt when instead we ought to have concentrated all our energies on dealing with the impacts of the pandemic in order to restore soundness and sanity in our lives, and prepare for a better future by dealing with the myriad problems affecting all the productive sectors concerning our health and livelihoods.

Bringing, in other words, some order out of the mess that we have found ourselves in, which is of course driven by nothing less than the basest of human instincts that we are capable of. That’s why, when playing around in my mind with a title and a theme for this article, I found that ‘mess’ was more appropriate than ‘chaos’. Because, in nature, even in chaos there is logic, as Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogine and acclaimed philosopher Isabelle Stengers so beautifully demonstrated in their book ‘Order Out of Chaos’, described as ‘a sweeping critique of the discordant landscape of modern scientific knowledge… an exciting and accessible account of the philosophical implications of thermodynamics… Prigogine and Stengers bring contradictory philosophies of time and chance into a novel and ambitious synthesis’. And a reviewer to extol it as ‘an ambitious book which suggests that a new picture of the universe is emerging from the study of thermodynamics, and that this picture will heal the breach between the scientific and the poetic view of man’.

Let me emphasise once more that, alas, it is mess and not chaos that this write-up is about.

Yet, I must concede that there is some light at the end of the tunnel after all. There are two major events that are on the radar currently: first, the world’s largest anti-Covid vaccine rollout taking place in India; second, the inauguration of Joe Poe Biden as president of the United States of America – though, one wonders whether it should be the Dis-United States?, somewhat like reference was being made to the European Dis-Union or the Dis-United Kingdom when the full heat of exiting the EU was on. In both instances there are lessons that we can learn from.

As far as the rollout of vaccine in India is concerned, it has already achieved over 70% coverage out of the targeted 300,000 in three days (as of today), that is, 224000, which is considered as very good by the authorities, since elsewhere the comparable figure has been around 50%. Importantly, there have been 447 adverse reactions reported (mild, moderate, severe). More noteworthy still is that only one person has had to be admitted with a severe reaction and is currently stable; two others didn’t have to be admitted, and all the rest had only mild reactions (nausea, vomiting) which settled promptly.

One cannot go into details here, but suffice it to say that the Indian authorities have deployed their logistics with the same reputed efficiency that obtains for the general elections organised by the Electoral Commission of India. In fact, a doctor intervening on the rollout did make reference to the Electoral Commission’s model. From the factories to the State storage facilities, and distribution from there to the vaccination points with their personnel trained and geared up for both administering the doses, observing before allowing the subjects to go, and establishing the protocol for reporting and treating of adverse events – every aspect has been worked out to the last and least detail.

India is using two vaccines produced locally: indigenously developed Covaxin from Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and Covishield from the Serum Institute of India in Pune developed in partnership with AstraZeneca/Oxford, UK. Both of them have been approved for us by the regulatory authorities.

As happened in other countries, in India too there were some controversies raised, but as Dr Jacob John, former head of the Centre for Advanced Research in Virology at the Indian Council of Medical Research, underlined in an interview, ‘The authorized regulator did not decide on its own… It asked a committee that had subject experts who sat long hours and discussed at length the date provided to them… The people sitting on these committees are not ignorant. They are taking a tough decision for the whole country.’

The ignorant were the politicians indulging in vaccine politics, one of whom said that he will not take the ‘BJP’ vaccine’, whereas the other did not trust the scientists and experts of his own country. That’s why Rajiv Malhotra, founder of the Infinity Foundation, has to keep harping on the need to decolonize minds in India. Further comments are superfluous.

As regards the installation of Joe Biden, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a memorandum signed by its Chairman Mark A. Milley, General, U.S. Army, have undertaken that ‘on January 20, 2021, in accordance with the Constitution, confirmed by the states and the courts, and certified by Congress, President-elect Biden will be inaugurated and will become our 46th Commander in Chief’.

They had ‘witnessed actions inside the Capitol building that were inconsistent with the rule of law. The rights of freedom of speech and assembly do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition and insurrection.

‘As Service Members, we must embody the values and ideals of the Nation. We support and defend the Constitution. Any act to disrupt the Constitutional process is not only against our traditions, values, and oath; it is against the law.’

If only outgoing President Donald Trump had been as smart a politician as a businessman that he is supposed to be, he would have led by example in abiding by the rule of law and accepted defeat, agreed from the word go to exit gracefully from the White House, rallied his forces, analysed the causes of his losing the election, addressed the lacunae, and who knows that he would have roared back in 2024 by adding some more millions to the nearly 74 million that have voted for him in 2020 – which was not a bad record after all.

But by his behaviour he messed up his chances to ever become the president of the US again.

When the new Covid variant was discovered and found to be more infectious, this is what I read in a US newspaper: ‘Human behavior drives transmission. Even without the new variant, the biggest variable driving contagion is human behavior.’ (italics added)

At the end of the day, it always boils down to human behaviour. We are the ones who create our own mess.

* Published in print edition on 19 January 2021

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