Can’t live in denial anymore


HUMAN beings are not particularly well designed to cope with trauma and crises.

Let’s say you live in a village with a lot of wooden houses placed close together. If there’s a raging fire, I guess the villagers would react with the appropriate urgency.

If I tell you, however, that there’s a huge termite problem in the village that’s eating away at all the wood and spreading from house to house, the reaction can be different. Maybe some of your neighbours have had their walls cave in. Others, maybe their ceilings or floors. You hear of these problems in your village WhatsApp group, and it’s kind of worrisome, but maybe it hasn’t hit your own home yet, so you don’t feel it quite so much.

Seeing as the village council hasn’t dealt with the termites effectively, a few of your neighbours are trying to organise a neighbourhood response. You kind of support the idea, and think it’s good, but your day job at the bank is pretty demanding, you’ve got to organise your kids’ online classes, and to be honest, don’t we just all need a little more downtime to Netflix?

Furthermore, you’re not crazy about working with those people, especially after that neighbourhood barbecue incident. It’s just way too much effort to all work in one team, better to stick to only the neighbours you really like.

Even when stories emerge of other houses in the village collapsing due to this termite infestation, it’s scary but still a little far away. As long as your own home is safe, for some reason, it’s subconsciously more comforting to feel that you probably can’t do that much about it anyway.

In this analogy, I feel like I’ve been the mad neighbour screaming at everyone else that this is a huge problem, and that the whole village is going to be overrun by termites at any moment.

I’ve been screaming for so long that I’m pretty sure people are starting to avoid me because, well, let’s face it, it’s not that pleasant to be around. Perhaps more importantly, fewer and fewer people seem to take the warnings seriously.

This must be what it’s like with regards to the flooding in China and Germany, or maybe the problem with mass shootings in America. How long have we been hearing the climate crisis advocates or gun control advocates screaming their heads off that this is a major problem?

After a while, those screams – just like the reports of another mass shooting, another abnormal flood, rising Covid-19 numbers, and yet another person you know dying of Covid-19 – all just become more white noise, to which we’ve essentially become completely desensitised.

It’s a slow and steady termite infestation not a raging fire. But when the village collapses, just like that burst dam in China, the end result will be exactly the same.

Maybe I am the crazy one.

Maybe all the people just trying to get on with their “normal” lives, their day jobs, and their reluctance to do more than unload on their favourite WhatsApp group about how bad things are, are the sane ones.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe this will all just blow over, and the world will eventually continue ticking on as normal. I wouldn’t mind being proven wrong at all.

Or maybe, just maybe, today it’s your friend’s dad that catches Covid-19 and dies because the Klang Valley hospitals weren’t sufficiently staffed or equipped. And maybe tomorrow that’s what will happen to your mum.

On average, I would say that every day I hear of at least one person catching Covid-19 via one of my WhatsApp groups. On average, I’d say in any Zoom call with more than 10 people someone will know someone who just died of Covid-19.

Termites are easier to ignore than a fire, and the human brain is very, very adept at ignoring things it doesn’t really want to deal with. That is always the easier thing to do.

It’s like being in a war, while leaders and those around you act as if there’s no war at all. No daily briefings, no updates on enemy movements and how urgent it is to counter them. Instead, we are all just floating along slowly into what may be irreversible disaster.

Some of course will blame the government for not being sufficiently alarmed, and I won’t argue with those people.

At this point, though, I’m more concerned about what we can do from the bottom-up without having to wait for anyone else.

Even this has been challenging, for many reasons. We have long had the problem of everyone preferring to work in his/her own silo, clashing egos, and perhaps more unique to our present situation, long-term fatigue.

It’s always easier to go on autopilot, be conservative, and stick to what you’re used to – even when what you’re used to is barely making any real dent against the termites.

At 2pm today, a coalition of civil society organisations called Tindak! will present a list of policy demands to the authorities. These demands are highly specific and designed to be easily actionable. They are a set of instructions which do not require the slow setting up of committees or multiple studies but are instead mostly a very, very clear set of instructions that can be followed to the letter.

These policy demands were drawn up in consultation with renowned experts in public health and economic policy, and are designed to reverse this overwhelming Covid-19 tide. Only the very best termite killers were consulted.

Tindak! will seek out allies and supporters, and if need be, grow into a mass movement calling for the implementation of these urgent measures.

Today, it is not just our democracy at stake, but our very lives.

Are we still going to just wait around, twiddling our thumbs, praying and relying on luck? Or are we going to stand up, and demand the actions necessary to save the lives of the people we love?

Nathaniel Tan works with Projek #BangsaMalaysia. Twitter: @NatAsasi; Clubhouse: @Nathaniel_Tan; Email: nat@engage.my. #NextGenDemocracy.

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