The Social Contract and the Game of Monopoly: Listening to Kimberly Jones on Black Lives

Debarati SanyalCovid-19

As Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, the United States was poised to cross the threshold of 100,000 COVID deaths. We were grieving those who lost their lives to the virus, cut off from friends and family, gasping for breath alone in emergency rooms, nursing or private homes, detention centers, on the streets….We were holding our breaths as we read the daily toll of the pandemic, disproportionately taking Black and Brown lives. Far from being a “great equalizer,” COVID-19 reveals the virulence of structural racism. African Americans are dying of the virus at three times the rate of white people in America. As some official channels urged us to follow the protocols of social distancing and physical isolation in the interests of collective care (and others defied precautions in the name of rugged individualism), an officer in uniform sank the full weight of his body into the neck of a man who once said he wanted to touch the world. “I can’t breathe, man, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe sir….”. Chauvin’s impassive gaze at the iPhone recording the murder, surrounded by accomplices, bystanders, and witnesses, conveyed absolute confidence in his impunity. He looked as though he was snuffing out a life that did not register as human, or as a life at all. It is the expression we might see on the face of an arrogant hunter with his kill, or someone merely resting their knee on an insensate thing.

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“Corona” and the Moral Economy of Life

Sabine HarkCovid-19

We can find an insight useful to understanding the coronavirus pandemic and the policies devised to contain its spread in the work of French sociologist, Maurice Halbwachs, who was arrested by the Gestapo in Paris in July 1944 and died as a result of brutal work conditions in the Buchenwald concentration camp in March 1945. A year prior to the onset of WWI, Halbwachs writes in his essay “La Théorie de l’homme moyen. Essai sur Quetelet et la statistique morale” (1913) that “death and the age at which it occurs are above all a result of life and the circumstances in which life has developed.” These circumstances, he continues, are “at least as social as they are physical.” There are, thus, “good reasons to assume that a society has the mortality rate it deserves, and the number of deaths and their distribution among the different age groups faithfully reflects the value that a society attaches to the furtherance of life.” What Halbwachs offers here is no less than a critique of the moral economy of life.

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Chinese Capitalism and COVID-19

Yan ZheCovid-19

As the origin point of COVID-19, Wuhan became the stage of many tragedies. In a country where all college students are still required to take a course based on a textbook called Introduction to the Basic Principles of Marxism, the government’s response has exposed the hypocrisy of the phrase often used to describe the system as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

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