Looking inward and looking at what is essential
The coronavirus has caught humanity off-guard. Pressing issues before the pandemic had little to do with an epidemiological crisis of global proportions. Although it had been discussed as a theoretical possibility in scientific warnings and depicted in movies, its dystopian character and, to a certain extent, eschatological nature caused us to respond too slowly. It is likely that the arrogance of the West led them to believe: “Something like this will never happen to us; serious diseases and parasitic infections (malaria, dengue fever, Chagas disease, Ebola…) always happen in developing countries”. Goliath showed the same self-reliant attitude when fighting against the much younger David. The entire world, that thought it was controlling the course of history, has found itself conquered by an invisible, minuscule virus, in the face of which the arms race has proved itself to be powerless.
Death, so far from the daily experience of the self-proclaimed first world, has instead become an event that affects us closely; it has entered into the awareness of many people who ask themselves: “What will happen if I get sick?, or, how will my body react?”.
Suddenly, the virus has made us look inward, because our decreased social contact (even with the infinite number of electronic means at our fingertips), allows us more time with ourselves and points us towards what is essential, since consumerism has suddenly collapsed. We are now focused on survival, and we have realised what the essential elements of our life are: health, relationships, love, our daily food… We have discovered that the idols we previously worshipped and venerated, at concerts or on football fields, cannot save us. Now we exalt health professionals because we are entrusting our lives to them.
Saved “in the nick of time”
Globally, I believe we have saved humanity “in the nick of time”. Not in the sense of assuring the continuation of the species, but rather because, in spite of the initial indecisiveness of some countries, we have finally decided to put the elderly and most vulnerable at the centre of our concerns. Boris Johnson may have been able to coldly consider the death of 400,000 British people as something more preferable than stopping the economy, but any society that would have chosen this option would not have come out the other end with anything resembling human… life. No society could raise their heads after living through the trauma of allowing so many people to die.
Even so, the suffering has been immense: that of the doctors who are seeing so many people die before their very eyes and having to face the possibility of prioritising some ahead of others in moments when the health system cannot sustain them all; the suffering of those who care for the elderly, who are mainly women, and who are carrying out their work in very precarious circumstances; that of the ill who die on their own in hospitals, in spite of the good will of those “strange beings” who due to their protective clothing seem to be from another planet; that of the families who are experiencing the pain of separation; the suffering of elderly people who deeply fear becoming infected and falling victim to the disease; that of the workers in essential services, who fear infecting their loved ones; that of a large sector of the population, who are having difficulty managing their anxiety; and finally, the great suffering of so many millions of people who have lost their income and only means of survival.
How difficult it will be to overcome such suffering since the moment when we will be able to say, “we have overcome the virus” seems so far off! There will be no “end” until a vaccine has been found. How difficult it is to heal the wound of the death of a loved one who we could not say goodbye to and who we could not mourn at a funeral!
In the meantime, in the coming months, we should find ways to make sure that this sense of solidarity that has emerged as we face this common problem together does not disappear, because we must not forget that the huge economic crisis (both national as well as global), is not going to affect us all equally. Our society will only be a truly democratic and fair one if all of us, gradually and united as one –and according to the economic status of each individual– take on the enormous health costs generated over these last few months, and somehow “rescue” those who have lost their entire income.
All things considered, in order to achieve this, it will be necessary for political parties to raise their game: they will need to seek above all the common good, and not capitalise upon the general feeling of discontent resulting from the loss of people’s buying power. Perhaps now is the time for Europe to take the struggle against tax havens seriously, which exist even within the European Union. Ultimately, political parties urgently need to form a common long-term strategy in order to overcome the crisis; otherwise, they will be responsible for their own slide in public opinion, and the ensuing risk to the country’s democracy.
Shifting of the global hub towards the East
It is not a foregone conclusion that humanity will reach the level of awareness it needs to after this pandemic. In fact, we know that we are usually very forgetful and that difficult resolutions that are made in a crisis are often cast aside when the crisis is over.
But what we are seeing is a shifting of the global hub towards the East. If the United States falls into an economic hole, while China managed to contain the pandemic with relative speed, we could be witnessing the beginning of the sorpasso by China as the main global player. Add to this the success of the pandemic response in South Korea, Singapore or Vietnam, and the hub of the world could be relocated into this geographical area. Paradoxically, if there was talk of a possible Chernobyl effect in China at the start of the pandemic, it now seems that this has been reinforced. The reduced protection of individual’s privacy in these countries could tempt certain sectors currently based in the West. In the face of global competition, they could ask that the privacy and civil rights of people here be sacrificed in order to compete with these developing countries efficiently.
In order to avoid the dilemma “security (and money) or freedom”, we should look to the successful examples of countries like Germany or Portugal, who did not allow power to be centred on one single person and who did not sacrifice the privacy of individuals either. China, nevertheless, has shown itself to be a partner that cannot be trusted due to their lack of credible statistics in relation to the number of infected and deceased. In other words, the opacity of their system raises huge suspicions, which is why it seems very likely that the West will reconsider a certain “repatriation” of production, or at least of strategic goods. This is why, paradoxically, a rethinking of the globalisation of production will be accompanied by greater digital communication, and a new form of competition in global industry will begin, in which the sectors of leisure, culture and education will be profoundly affected.
This article belongs to a Paper CJ’ publication. You can read it entirely here.