Making the best of a worst case scenario
Whereas diverse societies across the globe are living in the lethal grasp of the corona-pandemic resulting in a lugubrious number of deaths on an everyday basis, the corona-crisis has been framed as a devastating attack on neo-liberal superpower economies and as the cause of a biological war by the world of public health. If we believe the political leaders of our times (like Trump while he is drowning in his own glory, wealth, dirty tricks, and twisted doublespeak as a compulsive liar), especially their so-called flourishing economies will end up in ruins. Let’s however take this worst case scenario as an entry point to consider the situations of people who are affected the most in our societies, like generations of elderly people who often have disabilities, disabled and chronically ill people. What matters is their right to human flourishing as a reference point for the social justice orientation in our societies rather than a flourishing economy.
In that sense, I want to pay due attention to the social arrangements that were created for disabled people in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. Although Flanders provides a topical example of a region where a slow response to calls for deinstitutionalisation is the case and the power of large-scale institutions remains strong, ideas of inclusion and care in the community are currently promoted by welfare policy and rooted in the political ideology of subsidiarity, individual choice and self-determination: the welfare state supposedly only functions as a last resort for the provision of welfare resources and services yet a significant level of everyday care and support should be provided by self-reliant citizens who can take charge of themselves, and by their families and communities. In current historical and social circumstances, an alarming dichotomy between in/dependent and in/competent citizens has been constructed in practice: the so-called dependent and incompetent who need intensive and long-term care ending up as a non-recyclable group in residential care, and the so-called independent and competent in the hands of their informal network.
Corona has burned this candle at both ends. The striking stories I heard and experienced lately speak volumes. The lock down and quarantine measures have whatsoever overburdened people who receive and give care in unprecedented ways. But I also cannot ignore the ambiguity in these situated, embodied and embedded stories. Inspired by the French pedagogue Fernand Deligny, it can be argued that living in the presence of others in corona times has enabled people to become ‘createurs du circonstances’, turning the taken-for-granted meaning of the western phenomenon ‘Asylum’ (a power-knowledge complex, often resulting in isolated places for Others) inside out and offering ‘asylum’ (making a symbolic space and turning particular places into an refuge and island where people live in the presence of others under equal circumstances and in differentiated manifestations of interdependency). The stories show that boundaries and binaries are blurred in covid-19 times since people who receive and give care make the best of their circumstances, fuelled by commitment, social imagination, hope and solidarity.
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