It was the best of times, it was the worst of times: it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
One of the most eloquent passages in literature, the above introduction to Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities pretty much sums up our present predicament: a clash of contrasts, of wisdom and folly, of health and disease, of life and death.
How else are we to make sense of the world we are suddenly confronted with? One day, we were fretting about the usual things; the jams, the mail, the politicians; and the next, we are grimly warned not to pass Go, not to collect $200 and just stay home.
It turns out that Vision 2020 was house arrest.
At least, one thing hasn’t changed. We still bitch about our politicians.
More seriously, the stuff that went on in the oil markets earlier this week was frightening. Example: Oil futures went insane with prices, at one point, dropping to a jaw-dropping minus US$40 that is to say a buyer of one of those contracts would not only have to deliver the oil when the contract comes due, he would also have to pay the buyer for the privilege.
Markets are supposed to behave rationally, after all: it’s premised on people’s “rational expectations.” But when it starts going bonkers, then you start feeling the earth shift under your feet and nothing’s safe anymore.
It would even strain the “epoch of incredulity” condition laid down by Dickens.
By now, it seems apparent that things will get worse before they get better. But crisis sits uneasily on people with the worst coming out in many.
Witness the many cases of racism spreading like a rash across the US, Australia and Europe. There have been riots in South Africa and Paris and some Americans in at least three US states have taken to the streets demanding their economies be opened as per their constitutional rights; social distancing be damned.
It was an American, Patrick Henry who said, “Give liberty or give me death.” But methinks Mr. Henry was not referring to death by way of a citizen’s right to freely transmit disease because the Constitution allows him the freedom to assemble.
China, it must be said, deserves praise for its handling of the outbreak and its aid to other affected countries. But it’s also getting lambasted by some Western powers which claim it must be held accountable.
It does not seem the time for recrimination. But China itself is beginning to behave weirdly. You’d think now wouldn’t be a time to flex military might in the South China Sea. But that’s what China’s doing and it’s provoking the US to do likewise.
The world does not need any of this now. Businesses are going bust and people are losing their jobs. In the last month alone, 32 million Americans have been laid off. It is truly a time of great despair.
Hope springs eternal, however, a light against the darkness. We see it everywhere: in the myriad kindnesses exhibited by aid providers, health care professionals, millions of volunteers anxious to make a difference throughout the world.
We will overcome for we are the world.