Reassessing the future
The coronavirus pandemic that entered our life so dramatically, and which seems determined to stay for an indefinite period of time, has not only taken away many lives, it has also swept away our certainties, our perceptions, our plans and our basic freedoms – in short, all things thought to be a given for several decades.
But it was those certainties that were suddenly swept away at breakneck speed, as if one day an unruly and mindless child pressed the wrong button on an imaginary world computer and erased all the essential codes of life as we know it.
Out of professional commitment, I am following the daily dramatic updates of the numbers of deaths and infected cases, all of which sound like the daily briefings of gruesome battles from an invisible war. But as if I wanted just to ease my mind by searching for some sense in it all, I have been following the discussions among historians about what an epidemic has meant for the history of our world.
There is a line of thinking among historians and sociologists that the present pandemic has hit neo-liberalism fatally and has proved the usefulness of state institutions – i.e., public health care against the free-market economy. Certainly, one does not need to have specialized knowledge of any kind when predicting a social and economic disaster if the United States, without a proper public health care system, becomes the new epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic.
Epidemics, natural disasters, catastrophic wars and economic crises allow state structures to try to reorganize and strengthen their mechanisms in order to survive, claim historians.
Epidemics, which have always loomed large in world history, are a phenomenon or mutation from one species to another, experts say. “Viruses specifically have certain unique characteristics.
They spread quickly, they kill the weak and create immunity in the survivors, until the next wave of a new virus or the new mutation of an old one,” says Antonis Liakos, a leftist Greek historian who reminds us, in a recent interview, that “cholera, plague, smallpox and measles were extremely deadly and during Emperor Justinian’s times, marked the end of antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages.”
But while old epidemics took long to spread, the present one is occurring in an era in which technology has brought societies closer than ever. Interconnectivity has been achieved almost everywhere.
The speed by which a virus infection can create havoc in a large part of the world these days should perhaps make us rethink our priorities. Given the fact that our world will continue to face threats and that dangers, especially to our health and our environment, may occur at a much higher speed, isn’t it time to think of reconsidering our priorities?
Again, I would borrow the suggestion of this Greek historian, who used to advise the government of Alexis Tsipras on matters of education policy.
“What has been demonstrated through this pandemic crisis, but also through the environmental crises of our time, is the need for a radical reorientation which would fortify our societies against great dangers.
Pandemics had and have resulted in more deaths than wars did. Yet the funds dedicated to research and methods of prevention are incomparably low in comparison to military expenditure,” he said in a recent interview.
Given our present experience, very few would disagree with that, I think.