Lockdown. It’s not a new word. Lock (from the Old English ‘loc’) and down (from Middle Engish, ‘doun‘) have longer histories than their amalgam, the term has been used only since the late 19th Century and used primarily in a mechanical sense. The ‘restraint’ embedded in it naturally made for multiple uses, applicable to institutions, communities, nations and now the entire world.
There was a lockdown imposed on hundreds of thousands of people in Sri Lanka just over ten years ago. We didn’t call it that. We used the term ‘human shield’. Sanctions are lockdowns of a kind. Travel advisories are lockdowns or rather lockouts. The Maastricht Treaty specifically imposed restrictions on people from certain parts of the world entering and seeking residency in Europe. Another lockout, implying a lock-in or lockdown.
It’s not just a physical thing. Minds are locked down. It’s done systematically. Sometimes over such a long period of time that the locked-down become blind to the process. In the more successful cases, they even believe that no one persuaded them to embrace certain ‘truths’ but that they are either self-evident or are products of their own reasoning. When we inhibit someone else’s version of our reality, it’s a lockdown of the most pernicious kind.
A brilliant observation by Udayasiri Wickramaratne, which I’ve quoted on occasion, captures it well: ‘Some have dogs as pets, some have parrots and others have rabbits — but we all have a white man as a pet.’ What’s not white then gets blacked out. So we have white-development, white-history, white-economics, white-technology and other white things. What’s not is given labels — archaic, out of date, impractical, inefficient, boring, old wive’s tales, traditional (that comes with a sneer in expression or tone or both), backward etc.
Much of it is white, but that’s on account of history. A history of violence, humiliation and monumental plunder, of course, but it’s not just white. Appropriation is justified not just by the theses ‘White man’s burden,’ but in all kinds of theories about ‘progress.’ And they come with fancy names and theories that are passed off as being value-neutral. Economics is full of that kind of stuff. Nothing ‘free’ about free markets, after all.
So, we’ve had this ideological lockdown for decades now. ‘Development’ decreed that we retire self-sufficiency. Food security was pooh-poohed — the then US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Teresita C. Schaffer (and now considered a ‘leading expert on South Asia’!) simply said ‘Your food security lies in the wheat fields of North America.’ She was touting ‘high value crops.’ If Sri Lanka had abandoned rice cultivation and gone for gherkin and baby corn wholesale, that’s what we would have to eat if the current situation regarding the coronavirus gets really, really bad.
It’s not all imposed however, although that’s an important element in mind-control. For example, we had lots of ‘theorists’ insisting that the LTTE cannot be defeated militarily. Most recently, we had the US Ambassador pleading that we sign the MCC. ‘It’s good for you, darlings,’ she almost said. And it’s free, she blurted. Such love, such love! But it’s not new. Things come with strings and much of it is about entrapment rather than release. Lockdowns. We have been given blueprints about development, peace, conflict-resolution, reconciliation, human rights, judicial independence, democracy, civil society and whatnot! Of course there’s some relevance and even something useful, but then these were blunted by the overriding ‘riders’. Remember Resolution 30/1 of the UNHRC?
So. Lockdowns. They are not new. But then again, there are redeeming features of such impositions or seemingly irresolvable crises. We have ‘hard decisions,’ good and bad. The establishment, however you want to define it and whoever you believe is housed there, typically rush in to save businesses. It’s based on the assumption that if businesses collapse, that would be the end of the world. So, essentially, the rich are bailed out. The poor have to pay rent, have to pay for food, have to pay their loans. In the USA, for example, no such measures are being considered. And they don’t have a safe and secure healthcare system for the poor.
Cuba, now, is different. The USA locked-down Cuba more than half a century ago. Cuba has an excellent healthcare system and moreover has consistently demonstrated that it has a wonderful and generous heart. Locked-down, Cuba didn’t whine or roll over and die. Cuba went for self-sufficiency. Cuba managed with what it had. Cuba couldn’t afford frills, so Cuba made do with substance. Cuba, in fact, did everything that countries like Sri Lanka were told was bad, archaic, old-hat, old-wives’-tales and such and which Sri Lankan leaders lapped up as though they were pearls of wisdom.
So, indeed, these are the worst of times and the best of times. It’s as though we can’t really recover the earth but we can help the earth recover us. My friend Tony Courseault, living in Jacksonville, USA, says ‘The nature of life is well-being. It takes consistent and persistent ideas and action to get away from it.’ This means that consistent and persistent ideas are what will allow us to return to well-being in a collective, humane and environmentally sensible way.
‘I see this as a blessing in disguise; we have to attune ourselves to the clarity and righteousness of this opportunity,’ Tony continues. ‘And at a personal level, resetting ourselves as well; hence, for me, the purity of my intake — the most god-like foods available…fruits!’
He is correct when he says ‘the ignorance and the greed of the top 1% are exploiting the ignorance and greed of the rest of us.’ So we are forced to return to basics. Each other. And the soil.
‘It’s about using this special time in modern human history to embrace the quiet and allow ourselves to hear the soft intuition that will be guiding us. There’s major leverage at our fingertips. Big business is not saving anybody. Amazon packages are taking two weeks to be delivered. Billionaires are not even paying their own stadium employees. Socialistic endeavors are saving the day. Global unity is clarifying our vision. Healthcare and nourishment. The quintessence of life. Within days that has been forced upon all of us. And the situation is a godsend. We had no big, overriding action towards climate change. It seemed insurmountable until all the economies of the world shut down and lakes and rivers cleared up within days.’
That last is not confirmed but most certainly pollution levels have dropped. In the end we have been forced to recognize what’s important and what’s just fluff. Turns out, we’ve been obsessed with fluff and have been fluffing around for decades. Lockdown will make many question lifestyle choices.
‘It was convenient to earn bucks and buy food, but damn it, I could still have grown some manioc or planted a Kos tree and a Del tree,’ some might be thinking. ‘Damn it, I shouldn’t have read that article about urban agriculture that came up on my news feed,’ another might curse himself thus. We could go on. That’s spilt milk.
About ten years ago, a friend pointed to a massive kon tree and said he could give me a plant. ‘How old is this tree?’ I asked. ‘Seventy years, I should think.’ ‘I’ll be dead by the time the plant become a tree like this!’ I observed. ‘That’s a wrong way of thinking,’ he chided me. That plant is quite a tree now.
The lesson: we start now. Quite apart from the basic safety precautions, we need to reboot life. Starting from basics. As Tony said, nutrition and healthcare. As nations, a communities, households and as individuals.
It was reported that Sri Lanka has commenced the production of personal protective equipment required by hospital staff treating COVID-19 patients. Director General of Health Services, Dr. Anil Jasinghe pointed out that ‘there is a shortage of personal protective equipment not only here but also the world over and that many countries manufacturing such equipment have stopped exports [of which] we don’t [have] stocks.’
Lockdown, then, is a wonderful opportunity to unlock minds and mindsets, dulled or twisted by lies, deceit and fairytales.