If all the seas were ink

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Saturday 30 Jan 2021

Is 2020 really gone, or is it reluctant to leave this murky, dark, unintelligible world?

How can we extol sanity from insanity? We need lucidity, clarity, and reason but this is a world gone mad and our brains are taxed.

We need relief after the heavy and weary year of 2020, but the clouds are gathering, thicker than ever and here we go again.

Is 2020 really gone, or is it reluctant to leave this murky, dark, unintelligible world?

There is much fear and fluster, disturbance and distress, doubt and disquietude, a hodge-podge of uneasiness in this new year already, haunted by the tall shadow of the cursed 2020. It seems incapable of chasing away those Delphic dawdling, hemming and hawing of its predecessor.

We should simply start over again, despite the past weeks — may we heartily wish you all a very Happy New Year, starting in February — perhaps hoping it will be different.

Our fear is that difference may be to the worst. No, we are not bearers of doom and gloom, just trying to face the future head on.

Coping with a severe winter, we are assaulted with yet another spike of that pesky virus that is taking even more lives, infecting more victims, without control.

How about the much-flouted vaccine? Yes indeed, the vaccine will end our sea of troubles. Quite the contrary. Things seem more obscure, foggy, smoggy and befuddling. We are waddling in a sea of ink, unable to swim, float or sink.

We recall the old nonsense children’s nursery rhymes, such as this one: “If all the world were paper/ If all the seas were ink/ If all the trees were bread and cheese/ What would we have to drink?” What indeed?

Plunged in an inky sea is not easy. Allegorically, it has been alluded to in the holy books as a time of sadness, isolation and trouble.

Trouble it is when scientists are still pondering about the effectiveness, the doses, the availability and the timing between the vaccine shots. How does that make you feel? It is little wonder that there are negatives in terms of trust in the process.

Since there are not enough doses, the elderly were designated as first in line. A sane decision, but when Norway announces that over two dozen of its seniors have died as a result of the vaccine, you are horror-stricken. These people were actually killed by the very treatment that was to save the world.

Other deaths have been reported in other countries but the news was hushed up by the various pharmaceutical companies producing them. The tragedy has been dismissed by authorities that these fatalities would have occurred anyway, sooner or later. How glib, how heartless, how inhuman. Is that what we have been reduced to?

Every hour of every day of every life is precious, what if it is your life? How about those who love you? They hang on to your every breath.

The reality is that if all the laboratories work on producing vaccines, the estimate is about two billion by 2022. So far the world has five billion adult inhabitants and this virus is relentless — multiplying, mutating jumping from human to human, wherever they are found.

This almost calls for a new nursery rhyme, a parody on death and destruction, such as the one referring to the Great Plague of 1666 “and they all fall down”. Who do you think will suffer the most? The needy nations, the struggling poor, who will never see the vaccine.

Every country has been affected and infected. In Southeast Asia, 1.2 million have been infected, and 30 million are unemployed.

The recession is catching up with the new year. A dry capital market has reduced investment. Tourism is sluggish. Those who do have jobs are not likely to spend money, causing a wider economic collapse.

Only one winner in these inky seas: big business, big tech, big pharmaceuticals and big powers.

Come on, 2021. Do something to push this immovable black cloud from our skies. Give us hope.

Well, there is a new president in the largest democracy in the world, with a whole new outlook, that should bring clarity, hope and optimism.

Yes and no. The message was unity, but when 25 executive orders cancelling previous administrations’ successes are issued on his first day in power, that sounds reckless, creating more division.

Once a self-sufficient oil-producing country, production methods are now scratched and oil prices will rise.

We need good news. Seventeen million non-legal residents will eventually receive amnesty, adding to the rising number of unemployment. That is good news, for them not for the long lists of legal applicants waiting in line for their turn.

There is more good news. Armies of refugees trying to enter the US illegally will find it much easier: less restrictions, detentions, etc. They will be welcome and live off the legal tax-payers of the country.

Sliding slowly into a less democratic regimen, we quote from the famous book of British economist Frederick Hayek The Road to Serfdom (1944): “Abandonment of individualism eventually leads to a loss of freedom,” particularly freedom of speech. Socialism is a hypocritical system because of its professed humanitarian goals. Progressivism, authoritarianism, and socialism all have the same roots.

More questions than the new year can answer. Most important of all is the vaccine. London Bridge is falling down, destroyed at the hands of Olaf II of Norway.

Time for a new pleasing rhyme. Tomorrow is another day.



“To fear the worst oft cures the worse.”

 William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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