It is said that a pandemic is a great equalizer where deadly microbes choose neither status nor class, race nor religion, authoritarian nor freeman. That’s probably true in the post-historical sense when events are skinnied and encapsulated, cherry-picked for the Netflix version. Through the great pandemics that have nearly caused extinction events, in hindsight when these are recorded in an abbreviated page of Wikipedia, the equalizer notion might indeed appear to be the case.
While these seem as acts of vengeance by Mother Nature, shorn of geopolitics or xenophobia, COVID-19 is not purely deus ex machina.
Its birthplace was a Chinese wet market of vendors who recklessly caged live wild animals and then openly slaughtered them for food, or folk medicine, or ornaments, trinkets and decor — all within feet from grain, fish, poultry and vegetables.
COVID-19’s global spread was through human contact by people who spit, sneeze, spray saliva, cough and otherwise subconsciously practice unhygienic motions while interacting among the otherwise healthy but vulnerable.
Both are not acts of nature. They are man-made. And as such these afflict together with some of the worst of human societal conventions. Conventions that create inequity and unfairness, privilege, class and status.
The unrecorded history of pandemics, written only in memory show stories of inequity and unfairness that debunk pandemics as levelers.
We are seeing that now in the painful realities of COVID-19 in our own Filipino condition. Far from the reputed leveler, COVID-19 discriminates when it infests with the complicity of a cultural order. Where class and status prevail through adversity, then privilege still purchases entitlement.
In no particular order, allow us to list some of the most nauseating instances of the prevalence of privilege in this pandemic.
Note the recent curse of urban overcrowding afflicting the sanctuary cities in the United States where defiant authorities in stubborn protest against the national leadership and its policies allow illegal aliens wanton presence.
Along streets and neighborhoods, squatter colonies have sprouted, grown and spread. The homeless, both illegals and locals, along with rodents and vermin, cramped and confined in makeshift tents and cardboard boxes, create a colossal Petri dish for filth, disease and a virtual mass incubator for COVID-19.
When curfews and quarantines are compelled, only the privileged with homes are protected.
The same is true for the pagpag-fed street dwellers and squatter colonies in Pasay, Manila, Quezon City and elsewhere.
Now note how the suspension of most of economic activity has affected the underprivileged. The societal pyramid where a great many survive on daily “no-work, no-pay” basis, deprived of savings and an hourly cash flow, perhaps with cash on hand barely adequate for a day, will not survive on unsustainable hand-out programs. Only the salaried privileged will have the comforts of a stay-home quarantine.
Note also the number of privileged children educated in schools and universities that adapted to technology and transformed most of learning and interacting curricula online where the privileged can carry on their education sans crowded classrooms and underpaid teachers. Situate them in that pyramid and see where many of our underprivileged in public schools make up the pyramid’s fat end.
Now read that most avoidably disgusting makeshift poster held on one end by the most privileged in the House of Representatives. The message was plagiarized from a similar poster held by doctors and health workers who pleaded for the public to stay home as they went to work in the most hazardous jobs so as others may live.
Privileged politicians, by plagiarizing and equating themselves among doctors now dying in troves, nauseate.
Heels are not heroes. Especially where, in queues for critical testing, privilege grants unnecessary “courtesies” to leap ahead of afflicted doctors and victims, Indeed, this pandemic has leveled only the underprivileged.