The extremely low level of solidarity between countries, elites, and citizens is also striking. It’s clear that the recipe for fighting the virus is isolation. But it is no less clear that the main task today – with all the horrors of the coronavirus as such – is to restore the global economy. The extent of the economic damage is still difficult to assess, but its materiality is obvious. So far, no reference has been made to any conditional “Marshall Plan” for the whole world. Moreover, the efforts of international organisations often conflict with the aspirations of individual countries. This is very clear in the case of the United States.
But, I repeat, the coronavirus did not so much create something new, as it emphasised the existing problems. Three years ago, the Valdai Club session at the St Petersburg Economic Forum was named “Globalisation Revisited: Is Every Country on Its Own Now?” Alas, we did not want to be visionaries at all.
However, there are also such aspects of the life of our civilisation, regarding which it is very difficult to speak quite definitely.
First of all, this concerns the nature of human beings, their behaviour in society, and the system of power and regulation in human society.
Coronavirus, of course, dealt a terrible blow to the people’s feeling of confidence in their omnipotence. Of course, various typhoons and other tsunamis greatly undermined the sense of stability among people living in regions affected by them. There were also fears among those who found themselves in the zone of an armed conflict. But these are familiar troubles, in a sense. In relation to them, a certain skill has developed; they give way to counteraction, which is followed by salvation and, ultimately, everyday behaviour. The coronavirus came to us like a kind of disaster film, or an accelerated version of global warming. As I mentioned beforehand, the global rear area has disappeared, as well as the feeling that there could be a shelter. The impact of this sudden awareness of helplessness is likely to be quite impressive. The coronavirus will pass away, but the fear of “abandonment”, loneliness and despair will leave its mark.
At one time, the 14th century plague in Europe led to major changes in both lifestyle and human relations. For example, the perceived value of a person has increased significantly, if only because there were fewer people left. Coronavirus, as it now seems, is not as deadly as the plague was 700 years ago. In any case, we hope so. But still, the current shock turned out to be quite serious.
Therefore, people may change their attitude towards themselves and the world. On the one hand, they will need some simplification of the world, a clear understanding of that lifestyle minimum, without which existence itself is impossible. This will happen gradually, but we will see how a certain division is made into what must be and what’s desirable, but not necessary. This will affect the economy, will lead to a change in its structure, both in individual countries and in the world as a whole. The aforesaid does not mean that panic buying and hoarding of staples will continue indefinitely: for example, the Internet, will surely be on the list of priorities, like many remotely working sectors of the economy.
On the other hand, relations between citizens and states may change. Obviously, this stage of the epidemic is working to strengthen the role of states. Without them, the fight against the virus is impossible. Citizens rely on states, meekly give them their rights, delegate authority. States, however, promise to show their effectiveness, both in saving lives and in saving the economy. And this, in a sense, is one and the same.
Citizens, during a pandemic, conduct a kind of revision of their societies, look at how they, in reality, got into this trouble and what they come out with. De facto, this can lead to a renegotiation of contracts between society and their authorities. After the end of the acute phase of the pandemic in many states, the structure of power may change, new political forces may arise and the present ones die out.
The fact is that the coronavirus arose more or less by accident. Of course, everyone knew that viruses were dangerous; dozens of films had been made about the threat of pandemics and hundreds of books were written. But still, a relatively stable picture of the world which had existed encountered erosion. The sense of security and power of modern mankind has been undermined. In such situations, two opposing trends may develop, one aimed at strengthening collective power, that is, at strengthening the state, increasing the desire to rely on authorities. The other is the exact opposite, to individualisation, to a kind of anarchy. Ernst Jünger in his 1977 sci-fi novel “Eumeswil” describes a certain, inwardly free new type of person and calls him Anarch. Jünger sees Anarch as a kind of alternative to the state, since there are situations in which Hobbes’ Leviathan is unable to cope with his problems.
One way or another, the coronavirus has posed a rather serious challenge to modern political structures.
Another challenge – and this can be clearly seen in the debate about the coronavirus – is the problem of understanding death and mortality in the modern world. In recent years, partly under the influence of postmodern ideas, death has come to be seen as a kind of tragic accident. It is clear that rationally everyone understands the inevitability of death. But every death is interpreted in a modern civilised society as “premature”, as some failure. This, incidentally, is clearly visible in the debate about euthanasia. At the same time, a civilisation cannot develop without a distinct narrative regarding death. An answer to challenges and threats, an understanding of heroism and cohesion, development goals and the social structure as a system are impossible without understanding the fate of the individual in all its tragedy.
Coming back to the general assessment of the consequences of the pandemic, I think that there will not be any particular bright and immediate consequences precisely because of the pandemic. The Spanish flu, far more deadly scourge which hit the world a hundred years ago, did not lead to any particular political or social consequences. Perhaps because it proceeded against the backdrop of World War I, which was cruel and in many ways meaningless. The feeling of tragedy of those times was to a much greater extent perceive as the result of the First World War, rather than the pandemic.
Nevertheless, and I do not contradict myself, the world needs change.
Moreover, the coronavirus clearly showed the need for these changes. In a sense, the coronavirus is a relatively mild (with all its monstrosity) “substitute” for war and can serve as a trigger for change. A sharp reaction to the pandemic shows us that many have accumulated a kind of existential discontent with the current world, which, of course, will lead to changes.
And in conclusion, it may be worthwhile to approach the assessment of the effects of the coronavirus more systematically, analyse the main areas of human life, and form a forecast for their development after overcoming the epidemic.