Expert analyses and predictions have abounded on the political and economic contours of the post-coronavirus world and, above all, on the impacts of this pandemic on international power balances and the fate of globalisation. The devastating ravages of this novel virus were undeterred by modern medical and technological advances, national boundaries or natural barriers, and it made no distinctions on the basis of a country’s political pre-eminence or hard or soft power, or on the basis of national, ethnic, religious, cultural or other affiliations.
Here we are concerned first and foremost with the nature of humankind itself and our ability to grasp both the obvious and the subtler messages delivered by this lethal virus and its rapid transmissibility. Hopefully, if the international community can grasp these lessons and act on them appropriately, it will pave the way for the emergence of the new “post-corona human”.
Human beings are endowed with the intellectual and rational faculties to benefit from past experiences, to adjust to changing circumstances and to overcome difficulties. Armed with sufficient willpower and determination, they can choose behaviours that forge a safer life for themselves and others. However, if we do not summon the will now to learn the lessons from the current pandemic and take the necessary actions to forge new ways of life on this planet, there may never be another chance.
Lesson 1: Egotism conflicts with our essence as human beings. Humankind is a social being that exists in groups and societies that are part of the greater human community to which we all belong, regardless of faith, creed or colour. It is this shared humanity that gives people their meaning, value and sense of belonging. Egotism cuts people off from their own humanity and from others, and thus diminishes their capacities as human beings. Conversely, interdependence, integration, collaboration and solidarity in the face of epidemics, hunger, poverty and other crises are core tenets in a humanitarian value system that binds humankind and promotes its collective betterment.
Lesson 2: Mankind must respect the environment and stop its aggression against it. As scientists have stressed repeatedly, climate change and its detrimental repercussions are a product of modernisation and of the perpetual quest for profit and gain at the expense of ecosystems and environmental equilibrium. Scientists have also attributed the spread of unfamiliar viruses which have caught the world unawares and for which the medical community was ill-prepared to mitigate mounting disturbances in various ecosystems as the result of diverse economic and industrial activities. It has become absolutely vital to adopt new environment-friendly policies and modes of behaviour through new modes of agriculture, the use of non-chemical fertilisers, forest and other natural conservation measures and the reduction of carbon and other toxic emissions for the sake of the planet as a whole and in order to prevent the emergence of new and deadly viruses. Ironically, spread of Covid-19 has given the planet a much-needed rest and it has given millions of people the chance to breathe relatively clean air again, even if they are confined to their homes as part of measures to curb the virus’s spread.
Lesson 3: National and global priorities need to be reordered to promote a greater focus on public health, more funding for healthcare and emergency care facilities, and the production of larger numbers of doctors, nurses, first aid carers and other medical professionals. Scientific and research personnel and their academies and facilities must also receive additional funding and support, as these form the front lines in the defence against epidemics. It should be stressed that such funding and support must be liberated from the constraints of political rivalries and the profit-loss calculations of major medical research and production firms.
Just as humankind created modernism, so too it is able to control and steer it towards what is best for humanity and the planet. We are also endowed with the ingenuity to solve problems and crises that arise. Ones as unconventional as the pandemic we face today should inspire collective and innovative quests and dynamics that produce solutions.
However, it would be wrong to merely wait until the storm blows over and scientists produce a cure, and then resume life as before as though nothing had happened. If we do, we will have gained nothing from this universal ordeal and we will have done nothing to forestall or to better contend with future crises of a sudden and unfamiliar nature. Worse yet, the world will not have changed. Covid-19 exposed and severely shook many of the grave structural imbalances, behavioural flaws and distorted moral priorities that have prevailed in the modern world. But if we do nothing to change these, they will once again assert their detrimental effects because they encourage selfish profit, acquisition and rivalry at the expense of brotherhood, human solidarity and life.
Even under such grave circumstances it is tempting to say that every cloud has a silver lining. Crises can precipitate major changes, and from the womb of suffering better ideas and solutions might be born. Who knows? Perhaps the current pandemic will galvanise humankind into crossing the threshold to a new higher quality in our state of being, characterised by a more humane and sustainable equilibrium between the human inhabitants of this planet, and between them and their environment. Governmental policies are generally informed by national interests. But people, as the constituent components of public opinion, have the ability to pressure governments into reordering their priorities and forging new and healthier policies accordingly.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly