Bad News and Bad Intedependence: Life, Death, Love and Development During the Time of the Coronavirus

There is no doubt now that a global pandemic has erupted. There is also no doubt that sooner or later, it will end. But the main question is, what kind of humanity will survive on the ruins of the coronavirus and what it ruined? With all the fears of the current pandemic, it also provides us with a chance to a completely new, wonderful world (whatever the phrase brings to mind). However, it is very likely that just about everything will remain exactly as it was before.

In one of Isaac Asimov’s best novels, “The End of Eternity”, the characters are time travellers who are hard at work managing history. In fact, the novel is humanistic; that management of history is complex and controversial, which, ultimately, is why it’s decided to give humanity the opportunity to act randomly, which, in the understanding of Asimov, means independence. But – until this independence is achieved – specially trained people rule everything – they are called “technicians” (they, however, only cleverly carry out the plans of others). The “technicians” are so skilled that they can often change the future of humanity by taking very minor measures. For example, in one case, a war can only be prevented by moving a hatbox to an adjacent shelf. This changes the plans of some politician, and as a result, war does not occur.

Today’s coronavirus (for all its danger – please do not underestimate it) may seem like the handiwork of some of today’s global “technicians”: instead of thermonuclear war, there is an epidemic that is creepy, but yields possibilities. Moreover, it offers them by facilitating skillful changes to be made to the world, and the formation of a new order, which is both global and national, social, local, and generally anything what you want.

As I’ve written before (and not just me), I suspect that the pandemic was orchestrated. Anxious moods have prevailed throughout the world for quite some time: it’s became more and more obvious that the world order is incompatible with globalisation. One way or another, the existing world order, at the very least, was poised to undergo serious changes, if it wasn’t completely swept away. And then came the coronavirus, which not only took thousands of lives, but also called into question many of the principles of a modern, seemingly humanistic, but outdated civilisation, overloaded by biases.

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In many of today’s discussions about the influence of the coronavirus, the idea can be heard that the destructiveness of the coronavirus also contains what can be called creative destruction. Every crisis breaks the old and clears the way for the new, paving the way for the solidarity and cooperation of people.
Message from the Chairman

In my opinion, there are three important circumstances that largely have determined both the chain of events of the crisis itself and the features of the world that will emerge after the current pandemic is overcome.

One contributing factor has been the relative weakness of governance that has accompanied the ever-increasing interdependence of the world. Moreover, to a certain extent, this applies not only to the international sphere itself, but also to the life of countries as such. The modern world’s interdependence is amazing, in a sense, the entire globe has been adorned by a network with various kinds of ties: economic, social, humanitarian, and whatever you like. Of course, before, hundreds of years ago, silk was transported, and even silkworms themselves, from China to Europe, but today’s scale of world trade is incomparably larger; noting can be compared with it. Across the globe, everything moves freely: technology, capital, people, goods, and, oddly enough, even ideas. In a sense, the global economy is to a large extent a worldwide network through which the life of the world circulates. The successes of this circulation were quite obvious until recently: unprecedented prosperity, fantastic technology, space flight, hundreds of millions of tourists and workers traveling on enchanting planes and ships, trains and cars, and much more. True, something was alarming: all this brilliance was unpleasantly contrasted with numerous conflicts in various parts of the world. Their perpetrators were quite savage and even barbaric, with tens of thousands of victims. They lived in and even parasitised on these very technologies, such as ISIS (banned in Russia) taking advantage of mass communications to conduct its machinations. Although a powerful blow had been dealt to it, to say that a complete victory has been won, alas, is impossible. The world is not sufficiently cohesive, and therefore lacks an effective means of self-regulation. The same can be said of many other global problems, for example, about the terrifying level of social inequality, which, in a certain sense, is only growing. The poor, of course, are gradually getting richer, but the rich are doing it immeasurably faster. Another symbol of mankind’s weak ability to self-regulate is the sanctions of some countries against others, which were introduced, as a rule, arbitrarily and, it must be noted, in contradiction with many written rules of international law.

Coronavirus was a much more vivid and clear illustration of the lack of global governance. There is not the slightest doubt that the current pandemic would not have happened if, at least in January 2020, the world, in the person of its leaders and international institutions, had taken reasonable preventive measures. It’s funny that the scriptwriters of disaster films long ago depicted these situations and a possible set of measures against a pandemic. Incidentally, I’ve written and said several times that instead of a flock of political scientists, it would be worthwhile to assemble screenwriters who, as it turns out, have a wonderful and constructive imagination.

Incidentally, the coronavirus was delivered to us not by meteorites, but by airplanes loaded with happy tourists and business executives. Even more significantly, there were many warnings. And even more significantly, even now, in April 2020, the level of international solidarity and mutual assistance is far from perfect. Even in a seemingly formal group such as the European Union, its leadership, as it turned out, lacks not only the possibility, but even the intention to affect pan-European behaviour during the epidemic. But it makes no sense to condemn or criticise the European Commissions; they, like many other international institutions, have turned out to be simply helpless.

Above all, the coronavirus has spread because so far it has not been possible to create truly effective mechanisms of world governance. For example, in the field of mass communications. We understand that the modern information and communication environment is not regulated in any way at the global level. Moreover, regulation at the national level is largely meaningless due to the fact that a significant proportion of the sources of information in one country are located in another. And if before, in order to conduct a propaganda campaign, it was necessary to secretly distribute leaflets imported in the suitcase of a recruited diplomat or to drop them from an airplane dodging nighttime anti-aircraft guns behind enemy lines, now a server located thousands of kilometres from the target audience, and even from the creator of the content, is enough. But more about that in a minute.

Unfortunately, the capabilities of the UN and especially the World Health Organization are not so great. The WHO can, of course, make recommendations; moreover, it has credibility. But only individual states can really act now.

However, it would be unfair not to notice the attempts of the world community to somehow establish interaction. Recent meetings of representatives of the G7 and G20 reflect the presence of such a desire. But strangely enough, they are strikingly non-energetic in their actions. The fact is that the current world interdependence not only makes the world economy super-efficient, this same interdependence multiplies the intrinsic self-destructiveness and aggressiveness inherent in any given person. The complex features of mass and private human psychology are no secret. They’ve often brought people to near extinction. However, over the years, the culture and secrets of public self-government have made it possible to restrain many of the most dangerous impulses among people. The transition to a new level of globalisation, characterised by planetary interdependence, requires a new level of self-government, that is, the ability to resolve conflicts and disputes, the ability to cooperate for survival and development. However, from my point of view, neither global regulation, nor self-government is sufficient, and they don’t correspond to the level of interdependence.

World Order Under Quarantine: What’s Next?
“The coronavirus played the role of a refocuser. It did not eliminate a single problem, it only emphasized many of them, and one of them is the growth of interdependence with a lack of governance. Now conditions are being created for the construction of a ‘new building’, but so far we don’t see anything like a general plan for restoring the world,” said Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club at a press conference held on April 2 at TASS news agency in Moscow.
Club events

Second, modern communications play a striking role. New information technologies have actually turned every (or almost every) inhabitant of the Earth into an independent media source. The world is drowning in information, caused by a mass of people, including decision-makers, and converged in a kind of cognitive resonance, in which a rational and thoughtful decision becomes almost impossible. The disease, the features of its course, the mortality rate, the consequences and so on – everything is being questioned. Of course, you need to doubt everything, but it is even more important to find some clarity in the situation. Information chaos disorientates everyone, even those who have real knowledge, since the vast masses of people, entangled in information, in one way or another, put pressure on themselves and on those who must make decisions.

The very idea of ​​democracy means the participation of the people in governance. But what can be done when these people do not have stable and reliable information? When panic and prejudice are only reinforced by manipulating from the media people? It doesn’t matter if the purpose of the manipulation is affirmation, higher earnings, fanatical conviction or blind hatred. Moreover, the manipulation of information has been proven in both the domestic political struggle and the foreign policy competition.

And due to the almost complete absence of any general regulation in the information and communication environment, there is complete confusion. How has coronavirus increased normal mortality? What is the death toll from coronavirus? How may the private opinion of an excited blogger be distinguished from the conclusions of an experienced virologist? Who can we trust? How should we behave? There is no answer to all these questions. As there is no answer to the question, one must then ask whether it is possible to restore the information hierarchy, to ensure that most people can confidently rely on the credibility of certain sources of information. I’ve often written in recent years that we need a journalistic renaissance, that is, the creation of islands of trust and truth, if you want. I believe that this is possible, but it requires very serious efforts and it is impossible without international cooperation.

At one time, about a hundred years ago, there was a revolution in the media, that was called “public service broadcasting”. The pioneer of this broadcast was the BBC. The idea was that the media was controlled by society and paid for by society. By virtue of this, it was free from advertising and the control of any private group or person. Of course, public broadcasting cannot be restored to the forehead.

Finally, modern civilisation in its humanistic impulse has become unusually confused by the relationship between people and death. In essence, today death, especially in developed societies, is interpreted as something, in essence, casual. Until relatively recently, literally a hundred years ago, there was no doubt that death was inevitable for everyone. It is clear that this did not cause joy: death was and remains a cause for grief and evil, something to be feared and avoided as long as possible. It is impossible to reconcile with it, unless you hope for some other life, and even then it is difficult and few people succeed. But lately, the general discourse of death has changed. It is not forgotten, of course, but it has almost become premature. In some cases, it’s been heroic, for example, in the prosecution of criminals or in a war against terrorists. And still the cult of the heroes who sacrifice themselves is weakening. In other events, it’s unfortunate, because a doctor who has not cured a hundred-year-old patient may not be personally guilty, but medicine, of course, has failed. Here I must repeat that every death, alas, even the most natural, is a tragedy. But in many ways the panic due to the coronavirus, the panic that has gripped everyone – from ordinary people to heads of states, is due to the fact that death is excluded from the natural turn of events in modern popular social philosophy. Death seems like failure, a fateful combination of circumstances. Do a little bit and it could have been prevented. Of course, understanding death is the most important, perhaps even the main challenge of civilisation. But it seems that mankind today is considerably confused, wandering in search of a new narrative for life, which is impossible without an understanding of death.

As a result of all three reasons, a kind of evil saga has arisen – people panic in the futile hope of saving everyone, first and foremost, themselves. The panic puts pressure on authorities, who are also panicking. Panic is aggravated by a lack of accurate information. The principle “every man for himself!” eventually prevails. As a result, ties are broken, both internal and external. Markets fall apart. Work and income disappear. The world is crumbling. And we all continue to push it, but no one knows where.

Of course, there is hope that our shared desire for life, love and joy will save us. As a result of our present affairs, God has given us an overcomeable pandemic; people will be able to rebuild and get rid of outdated things in all areas of life – from business and government to the culture and norms of human society, to improve their world. We see that those who are engaged in trade are trying to continue to trade. Those who attend to the ill are working to cure and extend life to the maximum limit. Those involved in management are trying to make this process more efficient. Perhaps social cooperation between the poor and the rich will also improve, and we will no longer observe growing inequality. And, in the end, the parties to numerous modern conflicts will reconsider their meaning and their desired forms of resolution. In short, you always hope that just another destruction contains the seeds for a positive beginning, that allows you to rebuild and improve the public building in which we live.

Alas, most likely, the coronavirus will somehow end, and everyone will gladly return to their previous habits and activities. But is progress still on the way? 

THe article was published in the Expert magazine. 


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