Coronavirus: Fear of the Unkown

Social, Political and Economical Effects of COVID-19

Deniz Özyurt

Abstract

SARS-CoV-2, which is also known as Coronavirus is a virus that first appeared in Wuhan, China; and got spread to the world in time. Coronavirus, which is declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, had a staggering effect on the order of the world. Both social, political, and economic systems had stumble; and humanity procreated collective fear conscious. Life as the humanity knows has stopped, many people lost their jobs, couldn’t attend their schools, and had an enormous change in their lives. Due to the unpredictability of the virus; even though sociologists, economists, and politicians have an opinion about how the world is going to change, it is unfeasible to exactly predict the new world after coronavirus. In this paper, I will talk about the social, economic, and political impacts of the COVID-19, link this pandemic with the Risk Society term of Ulrich Beck, and exemplify the predictions of the new world after the Coronavirus.

A Brief Look to History: Spanish Influenza

As Emile Durkheim opines, “The Future is already written there for him who knows how to read it, and this is the only way to predict it rationally.” (Durkheim, 1972). Coronavirus is not the first pandemic that the world struggles; it is important to understand the outcomes of the past pandemic to have a prediction about the future. Spanish Influenza, which has lead to enormous deaths and an economic crisis, had different circumstances than Coronavirus. With the ascend of the globalizing world, coronavirus spread much faster than the Spanish Influenza, and during the time of Spanish Influenza, the 1st World War was just ended. In brief, it is not rational to connect the economic crisis after the Influenza to only it, but not finding a link between them would be ignorance. After the 1918 pandemic, capitalist societies had intensified their system of exploitation; nationalist policies had increased and the vulnerable groups had become the target of the fascist attacks. (Spinney, 2017). 

Fascism is a product of capitalism: capital greed is the reason behind Hitler’s fascism, labor exploitation, the policy of exclusion of minorities, and all the inequalities. The increase of the fascist policies of the governments leads to an increase in the labor unions and created a collective consciousness for the working class. (Spinney, 2017) As Tanıl Bora asks in his article, could the consequences of the Coronavirus crisis lead to the fair wages among people who are working in the indispensable areas like health, transportation, food industry? (Bora, 2020) The policy of social distancing in the times of Coronavirus had risked the solidarity and recreate the meaning of it; working groups who had little consideration have become visible, like supermarket cashiers or health workers. (Pleyers, 2020)

Globalization and the Risk Society

There are so many scenarios about how the world is going to recreate itself from this COVID-19 crisis. Some sociologists think that everyone will become more individualistic, some believe that nation-states will become powerful eventually, or how the power relations will be shifted, or how the class differences will increase. All of the humankind waits for the promising words that will come out of sociologists, economists, and politicians; because they all have the fear of the unknown. Panic and the fear that the society has faced shows that Ulrich Beck’s Risk Society term explains the global coronavirus pandemic that the world is struggling with. 

COVID-19 outbreak has created social anxiety worldwide. The globalization creates unpredictable and unmeasurable consequences, and this leads to society to be vulnerable and filled with fear. According to Beck, the way that modernization happens randomly and unconsciously leads to the Risk Society. (Çuhacı, 2007) Beck states that individuals live in such a way that they can’t overcome the risks that they are facing; the welfare level may create better circumstances for some people, but all of the humankind feels the same pressure among them. (Balcı, 2020) In the Coronavirus case, it can be seen that even though bourgeoise protected themselves better than the proletariat by being able to stay at their home and not being forced to work; both bourgeoise and proletariat share the fear of the unknown.  

Modernity is not able to deal with all these new phenomenons that are produced, which happens globally; and these phenomenons affect all humanity; it is inevitable to escape from it.  This Risk Society leads to reflexive modernization theory; where unpurposed and unpredictable effects of modernization produce and reproduce the definition of the society continuously. (Sadati, 2020) Reflexive modernity shows that even though humankind creates collective consciousness about fear more rapidly, the uniqueness of the incidents that they face makes them unable to foresee the consequences of the crisis. The 1995 Avian Influenza, also known as bird flu, could not create a common consciousness because of the rapid change of the world. Risk Society does not exist sovereign from observation, but it is socially constructed. (Mcinnes and Roemer-Mahler, 2020)

“The combination of natural evolution and a social order based on global infrastructures that make infectious disease outbreaks appear potentially catastrophic, yet unpredictable and unavoidable” (Mcinnes and Roemer-Mahler, 2020)

Mcinnes and Roemer-Mahler show that, globalization not only affects the contamination rate, but there is social order is also affected by one society to another. In the Coronavirus case, the thirst for reality could be clearly seen. Beck suggests that the modernization process is a circulation; it procreates a need to access for instant knowledge and this need only leads for a society to be more fearful. (Balcı, 2020) This unpredictable and unmeasurable consequence leads the individual to be more undecided and weakens their skills to distinguish; so the individuals produce a desire for authorities to make the distinction of the risky and risk-free. (Balcı, 2020) During the coronavirus, individuals are more relied on their governments than ever; and that is the reason why sociologists predict that the state will gain even more power. 

Redined Socialization: Becoming A Stranger

With the social distancing, curfews, offices turning into home-office, and distance education, individuals became more individualistic than ever before.  According to predictions, when the Coronavirus ends, traditional societies that live with the value of collectivism will become more controversial, and religious communities will transform into a more individualistic perspective. (Açıkgöz, Günay, 2020) COVID-19 pandemic may lead to individuals and states to give priority to their protection and community rather than global interests. (Pleyers, 2020)

“Plague or no plague, there is always, as it were, the plague, if what we mean by that is susceptibility to sudden death, an event that can render our lives instantaneously meaningless.” (Botton,2020)

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, fear of the unknown provokes to the existential crisis. The government policies as social distancing or distant education produce the feeling of the absurdity and becoming a stranger. Camus explicates the feeling of absurdity during the curfew and pandemic and narrates the inherent feeling of fear of decease. (Botton,2020) Socialization and humanization are redefined, and the morality of the human is assuredly questioned. This pandemic that the world goes through and the social distancing complicates to analyze the society. It is discernible that the pandemic crisis threatens solidarity, but still, the societies should be examined holistically. Sociological imagination, which is internalizing holistic perspective while analyzing the norms and values of the societies, is an important term to remember in the analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sociological imagination should be taken as a guideline to have any prediction about the forthcoming metamorphosis of the world and the social values.

Class Inequalities and Vulnerable Groups During Pandemic

The consequences of coronavirus pandemic affect vulnerable groups and the proletariat more than the ones that held the ropes of capitalism. As Marx professes, the labor force is in the first place between man and nature participates. (Marx, 1867) Even though the virus does not discriminate between the wealthy and the poor, pandemic does; since it pioneers social inequalities in terms of class, race, and gender. (Pleyers, 2020) Kemal Vural Tarlan elucidates that coronavirus’ fatality rate increases in the poorer areas of the countries; since these people have a necessity to work to continue their lives, they got infected more. (Tarlan, 2020) Because of the deceleration of the global value chain, purchasing power decreases; so it becomes even harder to stabilize the rate of the welfare. Coronavirus crisis is a pointed wand on both ends; one part is the problem of being able to survive, and the other part is the economic crisis, unemployment, and other disasters. (İnan, 2020) 

The general secretary of United Nations, Antonio Guterres predicts that the poorest and most vulnerable countries will take the strongest blow. Refugee camps are one of the important problems in the 21st century. With the economic crisis, the difference between the classes became clearer, and as it can be seen in the Turkey case, Syrian refugees are affected from the coronavirus much more than any other workers; since they don’t have job security and usually work at one-day jobs.  (Tarlan, 2020) 

  “It seems that the unemployment rate will increase especially among the blue-collar workers and service sector employees due to the bankruptcies, and closures of factories and workplaces, who will probably suffer the first economic losses of this pandemic. This will lead to a drop in the GDP growth of Turkey and income losses for workers.” (Açıkgöz, Günay, 2020)

Even though the economic development policies of Turkey government give a little helping hand, farmers and seasonal agricultural workers still continue to struggle with the economic crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic procreates. (Tarlan, 2020) The difficulty in accessing hygiene and cleanness makes the seasonal agricultural workers as one of the most vulnerable groups of the world. According to the Textile Workers Report of Turkey, the production process should continue only for the essential needs of the people, not for the sake of the benefit of the bourgeoisie. (Bora, 2020). As the analysis shows; the ones who held the capital gains much more during this pandemic, and the wealthiest will get out of the crisis much stronger; even though the continuation of the production process aims the reverse. (Pleyers, 2020)

Economic Dimensions of the Coronavirus

According to the predictions of the International Labor Organization, the countries that are already facing an economic crisis like Turkey are expected to see an increase in the unemployment rate. (Tarlan, 2020) ILO’s analysis, COVID-19, and the World of Work, also states that working poverty is also likely to increase, and economic crisis may lead to the devastation of the workers below the poverty line. (ILO, 2020) 

“COVID-19 will have far-reaching impacts on labor market outcomes. Beyond the urgent concerns about the health of workers and their families, the virus and the subsequent economic shocks will impact the world of work across three key dimensions: 1) The quantity of jobs (both unemployment and underemployment); 2) The quality of work (e.g. wages and access to social protection); and 3) Effects on specific groups who are more vulnerable to adverse labor market outcomes.” (ILO, 2020)

Predicted outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic contains an economic crisis. The sudden shock to the global economy will need some time to restore its balance. The panic that is generated by this economic crisis leads to the vulnerability of the world economy. As Ulrich Beck mentions, risk society leads to a vulnerable society; even though the minority groups seem more affected, the balance is still changed among whole humankind. The local institutions shall be effected by the economic crisis more than the global campaigns; but the liquid modernity as Bauman mentions will leak into every part of the Global Value Chain. 

The Necessity of Vocational Education: Case of Turkey

During the pandemic, the necessity for health goods has increased. Most of the countries suffered from the lack of face masks and were unable to produce it since they don’t have the labor force to do so. In Turkey, the government had the policy to produce the face masks for the country and even export them; by preparing a labor force from high school students of the Vocational High Schools. In his article, Vocational Education and Training as “A Friend in Need” During Coronavirus Pandemic in Turkey, Mahmut Özer analyzes the importance of the Vocational High Schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like all countries, Turkey is going through a difficult process due to coronavirus. On the one hand, MoNE improves the large-scale service regarding distance education in this process by continuously improving the quality, and on the other hand, a different production move in VET by focusing on the products that are difficult to procure is realized. Today, the VET community has been mobilizing all its opportunities and facilities for Turkey. (Özer, 2020)

With the policy of the government, during the pandemic in Turkey, 10 million masks are produced in Vocational Education and Training High Schools monthly. (Özer, 2020) The importance of technical education is not only for the times of pandemic, but also it is important for the economic crisis after the COVID-19 pandemic. Technical education would gain importance during the times of the labor surplus, and the importance of the Vocational High Schools should be reconsidered. 

Conclusion

There are several pandemics in the history that could enlighten the predictions about the society after the coronavirus.  The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the social values that are not clear to be seen; since the reflexive modernization and the unpredictability of the modernity restrain it. Ulrich Beck’s Risk Society theorization is one of the most important theories to be considered during the analysis of the coronavirus pandemic and its effects. There are different fragments of the effects of the pandemic; the economic crisis is expected after the pandemic, but the dimension of it remains a mystery. According to sociologists, vulnerable groups are affected more than other groups socially; but the collective consciousness of fear remains the same in the whole humankind. The unpredictability of the coronavirus blurs the visions about the new world after the pandemic.

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