Vandana Shiva: The Pandemic Is a Consequence of the War Against Life

The health emergency of the coronavirus is inseparable from the health emergency of extinction, biodiversity loss and climate change

Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva Cesar Rangel / AFP via Getty Images

Editor’s Note: This arti­cle is excerpt­ed from Van­dana Shiva’s book One­ness vs. the 1%: Shat­ter­ing Illu­sions, Seed­ing Free­dom (Chelsea Green Pub­lish­ing, August 2020) and was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished by Inde­pen­dent Sci­ence News.

In March 2015, Bill Gates showed an image of the coro­n­avirus dur­ing a TED Talk and told the audi­ence that it was what the great­est cat­a­stro­phe of our time would look like. The real threat to life, he said, is not mis­siles, but microbes.’ When the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic swept over the earth like a tsuna­mi five years lat­er, he revived the war lan­guage, describ­ing the pan­dem­ic as a world war.”

The coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic pits all of human­i­ty against the virus,” he said.

In fact, the pan­dem­ic is not a war. The pan­dem­ic is a con­se­quence of war. A war against life. The mechan­i­cal mind con­nect­ed to the mon­ey machine of extrac­tion has cre­at­ed the illu­sion of humans as sep­a­rate from nature, and nature as dead, inert raw mate­r­i­al to be exploit­ed. But, in fact, we are part of the bio­me. And we are part of the virome. The bio­me and the virome are us. When we wage war on the bio­di­ver­si­ty of our forests, our farms, and in our guts, we wage war on ourselves.

The health emer­gency of the coro­n­avirus is insep­a­ra­ble from the health emer­gency of extinc­tion, the health emer­gency of bio­di­ver­si­ty loss, and the health emer­gency of the cli­mate cri­sis. All of these emer­gen­cies are root­ed in a mech­a­nis­tic, mil­i­taris­tic, anthro­pocen­tric world­view that con­sid­ers humans sep­a­rate from — and supe­ri­or to — oth­er beings. Beings we can own, manip­u­late, and con­trol. All of these emer­gen­cies are root­ed in an eco­nom­ic mod­el based on the illu­sion of lim­it­less growth and lim­it­less greed, which vio­late plan­e­tary bound­aries, and destroy the integri­ty of ecosys­tems and indi­vid­ual species.

New dis­eases arise because a glob­al­ized, indus­tri­al­ized, inef­fi­cient agri­cul­ture invades habi­tats, destroys ecosys­tems, and manip­u­lates ani­mals, plants, and oth­er organ­isms with no respect for their integri­ty or their health. We are linked world­wide through the spread of dis­eases like the coro­n­avirus because we have invad­ed the homes of oth­er species, manip­u­lat­ed plants and ani­mals for com­mer­cial prof­its and greed, and cul­ti­vat­ed mono­cul­tures. As we clear-cut forests, as we turn farms into indus­tri­al mono­cul­tures that pro­duce tox­ic, nutri­tion­al­ly emp­ty com­modi­ties, as our diets become degrad­ed through indus­tri­al pro­cess­ing with syn­thet­ic chem­i­cals and genet­ic engi­neer­ing, and as we per­pet­u­ate the illu­sion that earth and life are raw mate­ri­als to be exploit­ed for prof­its, we are indeed con­nect­ing. But instead of con­nect­ing on a con­tin­u­um of health by pro­tect­ing bio­di­ver­si­ty, integri­ty, and self-orga­ni­za­tion of all liv­ing beings, includ­ing humans, we are con­nect­ed through disease.

Accord­ing to the Inter­na­tion­al Labour Orga­ni­za­tion, 1.6 bil­lion infor­mal econ­o­my work­ers (rep­re­sent­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble in the labour mar­ket), out of a world­wide total of two bil­lion and a glob­al work­force of 3.3 bil­lion, have suf­fered mas­sive dam­age to their capac­i­ty to earn a liv­ing. This is due to lock­down mea­sures and/​or because they work in the hard­est-hit sec­tors.” Accord­ing to the World Food Pro­gramme, a quar­ter of a bil­lion addi­tion­al peo­ple will be pushed to hunger and 300,000 could die every day. These, too, are pan­demics that are killing peo­ple. Killing can­not be a pre­scrip­tion for sav­ing lives.

Health is about life and liv­ing sys­tems. There is no life” in the par­a­digm of health that Bill Gates and his ilk are pro­mot­ing and impos­ing on the entire world. Gates has cre­at­ed glob­al alliances to impose top-down analy­sis and pre­scrip­tions for health prob­lems. He gives mon­ey to define the prob­lems, and then he uses his influ­ence and mon­ey to impose the solu­tions. And in the process, he gets rich­er. His fund­ing” results in an era­sure of democ­ra­cy and bio­di­ver­si­ty, of nature and cul­ture. His phil­an­thropy” is not just phil­an­thro­cap­i­tal­ism. It is philanthroimperialism.

The coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic and lock­down have revealed even more clear­ly how we are being reduced to objects to be con­trolled, with our bod­ies and minds as the new colonies to be invad­ed. Empires cre­ate colonies, colonies enclose the com­mons of the indige­nous liv­ing com­mu­ni­ties and turn them into sources of raw mate­r­i­al to be extract­ed for prof­its. This lin­ear, extrac­tive log­ic is unable to see the inti­mate rela­tions that sus­tain life in the nat­ur­al world. It is blind to diver­si­ty, cycles of renew­al, val­ues of giv­ing and shar­ing, and the pow­er and poten­tial of self-organ­is­ing and mutu­al­i­ty. It is blind to the waste it cre­ates and to the vio­lence it unleash­es. The extend­ed coro­n­avirus lock­down has been a lab exper­i­ment for a future with­out humanity.

On March 26, 2020, at a peak of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic and in the midst of the lock­down, Microsoft was grant­ed a patent by the World Intel­lec­tu­al Prop­er­ty Orga­ni­za­tion (WIPO). Patent WO 060606 declares that Human Body Activ­i­ty asso­ci­at­ed with a task pro­vid­ed to a user may be used in a min­ing process of a cryp­tocur­ren­cy system….”

The body activ­i­ty” that Microsoft wants to mine includes radi­a­tion emit­ted from the human body, brain activ­i­ties, body flu­id flow, blood flow, organ activ­i­ty, body move­ment such as eye move­ment, facial move­ment, and mus­cle move­ment, as well as any oth­er activ­i­ties that can be sensed and rep­re­sent­ed by images, waves, sig­nals, texts, num­bers, degrees, or any oth­er infor­ma­tion or data.

The patent is an intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty claim over our bod­ies and minds. In colo­nial­ism, colonis­ers assign them­selves the right to take the land and resources of indige­nous peo­ple, extin­guish their cul­tures and sov­er­eign­ty, and in extreme cas­es exter­mi­nate them. Patent WO 060606 is a dec­la­ra­tion by Microsoft that our bod­ies and minds are its new colonies. We are mines of raw mate­r­i­al” — the data extract­ed from our bod­ies. Rather than sov­er­eign, spir­i­tu­al, con­scious, intel­li­gent beings mak­ing deci­sions and choic­es with wis­dom and eth­i­cal val­ues about the impacts of our actions on the nat­ur­al and social world of which we are a part, and to which we are inex­tri­ca­bly relat­ed, we are users.” A user” is a con­sumer with­out choice in the dig­i­tal empire.

But that’s not the total­i­ty of Gates’ vision. In fact, it is even more sin­is­ter — to colonise the minds, bod­ies, and spir­its of our chil­dren before they even have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to under­stand what free­dom and sov­er­eign­ty look and feel like, begin­ning with the most vulnerable.

In May 2020, Gov­er­nor Andrew Cuo­mo of New York announced a part­ner­ship with the Gates Foun­da­tion to rein­vent edu­ca­tion.” Cuo­mo called Gates a vision­ary and argued that the pan­dem­ic has cre­at­ed a moment in his­to­ry when we can actu­al­ly incor­po­rate and advance [Gates’] ideas…all these build­ings, all these phys­i­cal class­rooms — why with all the tech­nol­o­gy you have?’

In fact, Gates has been try­ing to dis­man­tle the pub­lic edu­ca­tion sys­tem of the Unit­ed States for two decades. For him stu­dents are mines for data. That is why the indi­ca­tors he pro­motes are atten­dance, col­lege enroll­ment, and scores on a math and read­ing test, because these can be eas­i­ly quan­ti­fied and mined. In reimag­in­ing edu­ca­tion, chil­dren will be mon­i­tored through sur­veil­lance sys­tems to check if they are atten­tive while they are forced to take class­es remote­ly, alone at home. The dystopia is one where chil­dren nev­er return to schools, do not have a chance to play, do not have friends. It is a world with­out soci­ety, with­out rela­tion­ships, with­out love and friendship.

As I look to the future in a world of Gates and Tech Barons, I see a human­i­ty that is fur­ther polar­ized into large num­bers of throw away” peo­ple who have no place in the new Empire. Those who are includ­ed in the new Empire will be lit­tle more than dig­i­tal slaves.

Or, we can resist. We can seed anoth­er future, deep­en our democ­ra­cies, reclaim our com­mons, regen­er­ate the earth as liv­ing mem­bers of a One Earth Fam­i­ly, rich in our diver­si­ty and free­dom, one in our uni­ty and inter­con­nect­ed­ness. It is a health­i­er future. It is one we must fight for. It is one we must claim.

We stand at a precipice of extinc­tion. Will we allow our human­i­ty as liv­ing, con­scious, intel­li­gent, autonomous beings to be extin­guished by a greed machine that does not know lim­its and is unable to put a break on its coloni­sa­tion and destruc­tion? Or will we stop the machine and defend our human­i­ty, free­dom, and auton­o­my to pro­tect life on earth?

Van­dana Shi­va is a world-renowned envi­ron­men­tal thinker and activist, a leader in the Inter­na­tion­al Forum on Glob­al­i­sa­tion, and of the Slow Food Move­ment. Direc­tor of Nav­danya and of the Research Foun­da­tion for Sci­ence, Tech­nol­o­gy and Ecol­o­gy, and a tire­less cru­sad­er for farm­ers’, peas­ants’, and women’s rights, she is the author and edi­tor of a score of influ­en­tial books, among them Mak­ing Peace with the Earth; Soil Not Oil; Globalisation’s New Wars; Seed Sov­er­eign­ty, Food Secu­ri­ty: Women in the Van­guard; and Who Real­ly Feeds the World?. Her lat­est book is One­ness vs the 1% (Chelsea Green Pub­lish­ing, August 2020).

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