The Lessons of the Pandemic and the New Agenda: Recovery of Speech

It is believed that human beings first appeared when they learned to speak. Much of what is happening now indicates that the skill of articulated speech is being lost. Will this lead to the degradation of people and the disappearance of what we call humanity? The current situation has compromised global communication, threatening us with innumerable troubles.

Many people believe that crises and adversity bring people together, and bring out the best features in them: altruism, the ability to cooperate, compassion, heroism, and other admirable traits. However, a look at how mankind reacted to Covid-19 might cause one to doubt this optimistic view, at least with respect to the global community.

Of course, Covid-19 itself did not introduce any new element to either human nature or international relations. But this, perhaps, is what is most disheartening.

It would seem that the pandemic and its threats to the life and well-being of people should have provided a strong impetus for international cooperation and made possible a global reset (at least partially) of the entire system of international relations. But, as we can see, nothing like this has happened. On the contrary, not a single conflict has subsided, and many have simply escalated.

It is clear that one of the reasons for the deplorable current situation is the extreme tension in which people find themselves. The stress caused by the fear that we or our loved ones may fall ill or die has the potential to drive people to desperation. It happened during the 14th century plague, when major uprisings took place in Western Europe — Wat Tyler’s peasant revolt in England and the Jacquerie revolt in France.

Still, Covid-19 and the Black Death are incomparable. Thank God, at least for now, Covid looks more like a warning — albeit a very serious and painful warning — an indication that humanity is not omnipotent, that it is fragile, that joint efforts are needed both to overcome the current crisis and to prepare for future challenges. To deny this is short-sighted.

We Need a Vaccine for Something More Dangerous Than the Coronavirus
Andrey Bystritskiy
Democratic slogans swaying on the surface of mass protests can often lead to outright fascism and totalitarianism. So it happened in the first half of the last century in Italy, and in Germany, and in Spain, and in Russia. So it can happen in the USA today, and not only there, writes Valdai Club chairman Andrey Bystritskiy.
Message from the Chairman

While formally everyone seems to agree with this, we do not see any coordinated efforts to overcome the pandemic, or even any serious discussion of possibly combining efforts.

Moreover, complete chaos has struck the field of communications. It turns out that the possibilities for effective communication are limited at all levels. Without such communication, no coordination of efforts is possible.

Interstate dialogues as well as communication between countries and their elites are taking place with great difficulty. There are countless examples of this. The aggravation of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, incessant clashes in the Middle East, relations between the United States and China, India and Pakistan and much, much more — it is evidence of either the inability or unwillingness to see the forest for the trees, to understand that the stability of the world is not a given. It is achieved with great effort, and sometimes with a lot of blood.

I started by noting that speech is considered the creator of modern man and his communities, since the ability to speak, discuss and make plans has always been necessary for the survival of people. It was necessary to agree on how to hunt, how to creep up, for example, on a mammoth, who was supposed to attack and from which side, and so on.

Today, one gets the feeling that speech is needed only in order to avoid reaching an agreement in the most ineffective way, and to do it so that later it would be impossible to get out of the web of misunderstandings, as well as incorrectly given and misunderstood signals.

Of course, this is also not new in people’s lives. Lies and manipulation of the interlocutor appeared, probably, almost simultaneously with the speech. [citation]Nevertheless, the current situation is unique. And its uniqueness lies in the incredible abundance of information and the transformation of everything and everyone into a kind of media. [/citation]This, in turn, means that the nature of communication is changing. Moreover, these changes affect all strata of human society.

Those who are called the masses, ordinary people (although who are they?), found themselves in an unbridled ocean of information, in which navigation is extremely difficult. It is almost impossible to figure out what information is correct and what’s a lie or reflects a serious distortion of reality. This has made it extremely difficult for people to make decisions. There is so much information, and its sources are so contradictory, that one has to simplify information in creating a picture of the world, and refuse to accept contradictions. Often this simplification can be malignant and lead to the wildest conclusions and actions. This applies to everything — from consumer choices to political decisions. This is a problem in itself: it is not new, but new communication technologies have brought it to a fundamentally new level. [attach id="16448"]The position of the elites, which, in theory, should be both more competent and more critical than the general population, is no better. But they share our world, and are affected by the same information disorder. Moreover, due to the mediation of everything, the role of the media itself has blurred. Many once-reliable newspapers and TV channels have actually turned into political forces, almost like outright parties, and have merged with one political force or another. The elite have found themselves lost in the information cocoon, just like everybody else. They are also forced to look for ways to simplify, plunge into what they call a filter bubble, into a space with filtered information that actually manipulates the consumer.

Generally speaking, however, if manipulation has turned out to be a consequence of the structure of information in the modern world, then in the case of elites, it often becomes a consequence of what can be called a mediocracy: the politicisation of those who produce and disseminate information. This is, of course, a separate, but very important issue: changing the role of journalists. For the sake of brevity, I mean all those who produce content that is consumed by a relatively large number of people. So, we see the transformation of entire strata of journalists into political groups aimed at manipulating others. CNN, for example, has, in my opinion, become the news desk of the Democratic party.

All of this is further compounded by the emergence of social media, which is creating global platforms. These platforms have become a kind of infectious field, in which entire clusters of unusually fanatical politically engaged people are formed. The Internet is of course enlightening, but it also provides an incredible platform and opportunity for the promotion of hatred and intolerance.

The cumulative consequences of the current information and communication situation are extremely alarming. [citationOne gets the impression that we have fallen into a vicious circle of misunderstandings, that our speech is losing its articulation and constructiveness; that it is no longer a means of fostering agreement.[/citation] In general, in my opinion, we all need the restoration and renewal of serious and impartial conversations about the most essential aspects of global development. Of course, a flock of storks can scream very loudly and even excitedly. But this cry may be reduced to the transmission of one impulse, like “run” or “fly.” The human community needs more substantial and complex communication. This Annual Valdai Club conference, I hope, will contribute to the open and honest communication that is necessary for our life and development.
Struggling With Pandemics: How the World Is Composing Itself. Opening of the 17th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club and of the First Session