Covid-19: Optimistic or pessimistic, don’t try to rebuild the world after the pandemic

Javier Surasky
Cepei
j.surasky@cepei.org

April 13th, 2020 

For several weeks now, it has been usual to find articles answering the question on how the world would look like after the pandemic, or what would the world order be when this is all over. In the last two weeks, I have read dozens of these publications, on which I have two conclusions:

The first one is that no one has provided conclusive arguments to answer the question. Writers seem to be playing futurology games based on current data and historical studies, and on their own ideas about peoples’ and societies’ ability to learn from facts. Between optimists and pessimists, some authors have introduce nuances according to their ideologies.

On the optimists’ side, we can find those who think (or believe, as an act of faith) that humanity and its leaders will learn the lesson, becoming more supportive and giving much more importance to international cooperation. Andrés Oppenheimer’s article in the Miami Herald, entitled “The world might — might! — become a better place because of COVID-19“, is a good example. It presents a conversation between him and Peter Coleman, introduced as “a professor of psychology at Columbia University who studies political conflicts and natural disasters around the world.” Coleman´s main conclusion is that pandemic may lead to a decrease in global polarization: “A study of 850 inter-state conflicts that took place between 1816 to 1992 found that more than 75 percent of them ended within ten years of a major destabilizing shock,” promoting solidarity, altruism, and compassion.

It seems that both Coleman and Oppenheimer are not considering the work of Naomi Klein, which is hard to believe they don’t´ know. Thoroughly, Klein demonstrates in her book (later adapted as a documentary film) The Shock Doctrine, how crises resulted in freedom restrictions and policies that otherwise would have faced social resistance, given the social affected “state of mind.” Shock  situations, she explains, have increased inequality, put more pressure on the environment, strengthened dictatorships, and provide renewed political space to weak governments.

The same day of the Oppenheimer article publication, the United Nations Human Rights Council warned about the risks that the pandemic poses to human freedom, now and once it will be overcome. The next day the UN Secretary General warned the Security Council that the Coronavirus is threatening international peace and security and “could lead to an increase in social unrest and violence.” Vain warning. The Security Council is almost unable to act due to the cross-accusations for the current situation between the United States and China, even though we already know that the virus is not a laboratory creation (it is not a biological weapon).

My second certainty is that no matter how optimistic or pessimistic one is, rebuilding the world must be avoided at any cost. The systemic logic of the pre-pandemic order has been a great disaster-maker. The world must not be rebuilt but redesigned.

From a wide range of elements that I could list here, I am going to refer only to one: the pre-pandemic order priorities are absurd (It prioritizes economic growth over life, and it prioritizes individual liberty over social equity, as if one were possible without the other). Moreover, the system and its leaders have tried in every possible way to ignore reality.

In a previous blog entry we mentioned how the UN had voiced the risk of this pandemic months before it started. The video of Bill Gates TED Talk warning of the tragedy of a flu-like pandemic in 2015 has become, what a coincident, viral! One of the most important data disseminators in our time, Hans Rosling, wrote in 2016 in his book Factfulness (check out here a video summary), that humanity should be concerned about five things, the first of which was a global pandemic:

Serious experts on infection diseases agree that a new nasty kind of flu is still the most dangerous threat to global health (…) We need to ensure that basic health care reaches everyone, everywhere, so that outbreaks can be discovered more quickly. And we need the World Health Organization to remain healthy and strong to coordinate a global response. 

However, the answer to these and other calls was to highlight their relevance and to underline their authors’ courage and detailed work. No more. The lack of action was not perceived as contradictory to these recognitions, mainly because inaction was aligned with the defense of mandates and priorities of the current international system.

This behavior is neither new in history nor a consequence of capitalism, but rather the “systemic instinct of denial” of anything that can add pressure on the prevailing humanity´s order. The Aristotle Meteorology, written in the 4th Century BC, stated that there could be no human life in the tropics due to its conditions. When Portuguese sailors arrived to the tropics and pointed out the existence of human beings and organized societies, it was not enough to change the truth of the Aristotelian claim, that was at the base of the European belief system. There was simply no perception of contradiction between one thing and the other. If this reference seems ridiculous, I would like to remind you that it is the same logic under which the COVID-19 pandemic is operating in the 21st century: to deny the obvious, no matter how well documented it is, to prevent the existing order from entering into insurmountable contradictions. Efforts to rebuild such an international order would be another proof of stupidity.

I don’t know how the world would look like after COVID-19, but I would prefer an action-oriented, data-driven, coherent one. A world where life is put at the center of decision-making processes. I don’t expect this to come true, but I’m not willing to accept less either.


“In the Region of the Americas, an additional 34,668 cases and 1,832 deaths were reported in the past 24 hours – representing an 6 % (cases) and 11% (deaths) relative increase compared to the previous day. Majority of the new cases (29,308) and deaths (1,528) continue to be from the United States of America”.

PAHO, April 13, 2020.

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Other blogs of the series

Covid-19: Financing, now! | March 27, 2020

Covid-19: Financing versus Financing | March 26, 2020

Covid-19: The Price of Unfulfilled Promises | March 26, 2020

COVID-19: It’s foolishness, stupid! | March 20, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic and the virtual limitations of development governance | March 18, 2020

What does COVID-19 tell us about Sustainable Development and the 2030 Agenda? | March 11, 2020