On Dependency and Resistance in a Pandemic

On Dependency and Resistance in a Pandemic
Jinette de Gooijer

We are experiencing anew our dependency on critical social institutions and services and the authority relations that enable collective action. Covid-19 has revealed our dependencies on political leadership, health resources, family welfare and economic systems. It has also revealed, shamefully, systemic inequalities in our society. There is the risk that what is now clearly in view will soon again be hidden beneath political slogans and failures of social policies. Can we instigate the system change this crisis presents to us?

(Image downloaded from The New York Times, 6 April 2020)

Covid-19 is a catastrophic shock to vital human systems for health, social relations, economic industry and institutional containment. It has brought into foreground threats to human survival in which the primary threat is our biological contact with each other. There are no cultural boundaries to its spread. If the pandemic is the manifestation of a (global) dis-ease of humankind, the surge of associated racism could be said to be a manifestation of humankind’s un-ease (1).

Racism has its roots in early developmental processes; it is an inevitable dynamic arising from primitive drives for survival: to trust the familiar and fear the stranger. Covid-19 confronts us with an unconscionable dilemma – the familiar is as much a threat to our survival as the stranger. Who can we trust in such a situation? In the breach of the catastrophic shock of this pandemic, old ‘familiar’ scapegoats of projected blame are readily identified, as we have seen in the racist attacks upon Asian-Australians. Zachary Green remarks on the splitting and polarisation in America that has intensified during the pandemic, of the systemic inequalities and racism underpinning decisions about managing the welfare of community health and economic recovery (2).

The Covid-19 pandemic is revealing, in starkly troubling ways, the consequences of power differentials, authority and class hierarchies that exist in society (3). Those most at risk are also those most vulnerable and with least socio-political power: the elderly in residential care, the homeless, disabled and chronically ill, individuals and families employed in low-paid insecure work.

To keep ourselves safe, we are experiencing a psychological regression, meaning we have had to give up aspects of individuality in order to ‘belong’ in a safe society. Compliance with government orders to stay at home/self-isolate in order that our communities will be safe assumes a willingness to identify with that community, to contribute to its collective well-being, by giving up precious individual social and economic well-being. Resistance is perhaps a natural phenomenon under such circumstances, resistance that seeks an object to blame, to hate and denigrate: a scapegoat for one’s feelings of fear for survival and loss of control. What is needed to counter this impulse is to ‘hold onto our wits’ and think anew about old dynamics.

(1) Gold, S. Racism: An Introduction, unpublished manuscript.

(2) Green, Z. ‘Pandemic Psychodynamics in the USA’, In Edgy Ideas with Simon Western. https://embeds.audioboom.com/posts/7568252/embed/v4

(3) McRae, M. & Short, E. Racial and Cultural Dynamics in Group and Organizational Life. Sage, 2010.

Jinette de Gooijer, PhD is the Conference Director of the next GRA residential group relations conference to be held in Melbourne, Australia, November 2021

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