Against the backdrop of the global challenge of the current coronavirus, it seems strange that we have taken it for granted that our lives would stay the way they are forever and that we are allowed to stay the way we are.
“As always” – what is that anyway?
As a rule, there is always a term that refers to the present. We compare our present with the recent past and expect that the future will be a logical and familiar continuation of what has characterised our lives so far.
For this reason, we do not, for example, expect a new edition of the Spanish Inquisition. But the past world wars and their cruel everyday life for the people of that time also play no role in our expectations of the future.
It is as if our modern life has programmed us to ignore all the knowledge in our history books and the stories of our ancestors.
The flood of fast news has caused us to focus on today and the days to come.
We are not prepared for a future that reflects our more distant past.
But now we are facing a scenario from the past – a plague. COVID-19 is the name of the midget that keeps the world and its economy in check. This is not the first time in human history. It is not the first plague we have to survive.
Viruses have been a part of human life since ancient times.
Every liter of sea water alone is home to around 100,000,000,000 viruses. Through historical and scientific research, we now know much more about viruses than ever before. Yet no researcher can predict when and how outbreaks will occur.
Outbreaks are difficult to prevent.
In an increasingly confined space, in overpopulated cities and in an increasingly networked world, this virus has found its way across the globe.
Its worldwide spread has only been made possible by the countless regulations and innovations in the economy, transport and infrastructure. The lack of physical demarcation has already made epidemics such as the bird flu virus H5N1, SARS, dengue and Ebola fever possible in the recent past.
What is different about COVID-19?
The worldwide lockdown is different, it never existed before! Ghostly and cruel is the idea that the power of viruses could also be used for evil and vile purposes: Biological warfare against our kind.
However, the development of new technologies has also progressed in this area in recent years. The genetics that make it possible to create new microorganisms are mostly used for peaceful purposes. But not exclusively: smallpox and anthrax have already been used as biological weapons, and in 1995 the chemical warfare agent sarin was spread by terrorists in the Tokyo metro.
We humans are fascinatingly contradictory.
Basically, crises are not a problem for people, we have grown cognitively and culturally. In every crisis so far, the human mind has performed cultural and human miracles with which we have been able to counteract it. No species can produce such great technological and cultural achievements and at the same time be responsible for poverty, wars and climate change as we are.
What makes us noble and better human beings in our current situation?
Erasmus of Rotterdam described the behaviour of a person as “humanistic” when a person acted in a socially conscious manner. A humanist does not simply orient himself to his own needs and ideals, but to the well-being of all people. He thinks not only of his own life, but of all life. A better person is one who orients himself in this sense to the well-being of all.
United in a pandemic: Will we learn our lessons worldwide?
The social dimension of our reasoning is our ability to reflect on the social impact of our actions. There has never been a better time to judge our behaviour on an ethical and moral level and now even globally. We possess the ability to process insights in such a way that we can consciously work on ourselves – and change “for the better”.
The world needs global utopias.
We all need a positive vision of our future life in this time: Global approaches that make all our lives sustainable, better and fairer. These are health care, peace, sustainability and livelihood security for every citizen in the world.
Now is the right time to dare to think about what will take us forward as humanity. At the same time, the global crisis opens up a global new beginning for us.
A worldwide unconditional basic income, justice in terms of capital gains from work and wealth, access to health care for everyone, sustainable economic activity and the opportunity to educate oneself are feasible today. All the technologies needed to achieve this are already in our hands.
A small virus shows us that we all have a common destiny.
It is time that we see ourselves as what we have always been: Lonely inhabitants of our common home in the infinite reaches of the universe, where no one can save us unless we do it ourselves.
Founder and owner of the future and science blog “Utopia Collector”.
The science journalist is a keynote speaker for a new understanding of human labour and a successful human-machine cooperation.