The current global pandemic is a gigantic social experiment on humanity. There is already plenty of dramatising information, so my contribution here will be on the positive side. Here are 5 predictions/recommendations for a better post-Corona world.
1: A new paradigm of slow growth
Few would disagree that the current events demonstrate, once more, the epidermic fragility of capitalism as we know it. The system has been praised as the only viable form of economic protocol, but it proves once again to be volatile and all but robust in its exponential growth mindset. Would you build your house on a roller coaster? Yet this is somewhat what we tolerate with under-regulated forms of financial capitalism. Of course things could eventually go back to “normal”, the “normal” being a relatively small group of privileged and anxious finance junkies playing with fire while the majority of citizens struggle to have a decent and balanced life while being treated as mere consumers or dopamine receptors. We are all on a mindless roller coaster. It’s time to try the tunnel of love boat ride. Less adrenalin perhaps, but more wonder.
The fact that the capitalist system is dependent on fears and the caprices of nature — when it does not create itself those caprices — demonstrates that we need a more robust system, one with more structural integrity (in the engineering and moral sense), yet one that does not discourage creativity and growth. A more robust economy will be based on slow growth. Slow growth is a successful model in nature and in education. We fear exponential curves in viruses – we should also refrain from desiring them in relation to financial profit. A tree needs to grow solid roots and not just rise to the sky like Icarus. For example, more welfare safety nets should be developed in places where they have been lacking.
2: More citizen resilience and philosophical health
The second conclusion we can draw from the current situation: many are mentally fragile, many have overwhelming fears and lack of self-confidence to the point that they are influenced by panic and paranoia, as well as excesses of irrational hope. This is not new but is today critically augmented by our social media addiction and their echo chambers. In sociology, the Thomas Theorem says: “If humans define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” What makes the 2020 pandemic phenomenon dangerous is to a certain extent our global perception of it. If we nurture a collective reaction according to which a situation is dramatic and catastrophic, then, even if it is a collective hallucination, this might become a self-fulfilled prophecy. If on the contrary we remain calm, pragmatic and collected, we will avoid trying, as the French saying goes, to harm water with a sword; in other words, over-reacting in vain. Here a good philosophical reading is Nietzsche’s distinction between the active and the reactive people: to lead a healthy life, instead of reacting out of ressentiment, we need affirm healthy, fruitful and loving values and act coherently according to these axioms. We can more confidently and slowly actualise at least part of what we admire if we develop our capacity to be self-rational, to think, intuit and feel by ourselves.
Some politicians seem to be enjoying pandemic situations because it allows them to demonstrate that they can still have control over people, by forcing them to stay home for example. Here a pertinent reading is Deleuze and Foucault on societies of control. The extent to which martial states of emergency can so easily be inflicted upon us shows the fragility of our democracies. Citizens should be empowered, educated and trusted to judge by themselves what is the right thing to do in a given situation. A forced lockdown of a society is a politician’s dream but potentially a citizen’s nightmare. A philosophically healthy society is one where citizens are not considered mostly as lab-rat consumers or immature statistical instruments. Here a good philosophical reading is Kant on Enlightenment. If anything, crisis decisions should be taken more democratically, and we should not treat people as minors but help them to become fully adult, which is why education and research on philosophical health is needed.
3: Less nationalism and protectionism, more collaboration toward a global shared cosmology
The world has definitely become global. We are on the same boat and interconnected, and now we feel it. The big climate change menace was perhaps not enough to create a shared worldview. We can now thank a well-travelled virus for allowing more people to feel in the flesh that we need a shared cosmology and a global vision for our planet, not just ecological but also philosophical. I wrote the book Ensemblance to explain, via a thorough historical analysis on the phenomenon of group belonging in modernity, the limits of tribalism, competition and groupthink. This does not mean creative collaboration is to be rejected: in this paper from 2017 I explained why I think it’s time for a global social contract based on the hypothesis I call Creal.
4: The Decline of Big Cities and the Rise of Nature-Centred Remote Work
I lived in Paris for several decades, and have always considered large capitals as physically and mentally damaging for their inhabitants, even if they can be amusing for tourists. I now live in a nature-friendly area in the Stockholm archipelago and go for a walk along the water and woods every day. I have always worked from home a great deal, which does not feel claustrophobic when we surround ourselves with nature. Residential surfaces can be larger further from the city centres and rents less expensive, while our digital connections allow us to discover and co-create remote possibilities for work, communication, education and collaboration. In the next years, more people are going to distance themselves from unhealthy oversized capitals and realise they can have a much more balanced and ecological form of life by embracing remote-work and letting go of the city madness and its hazardous ecological and existential footprint. Intermediary-sized cities should become more important for cultural life and intellectual growth.
5: More courage.
Most humans today have a hard time with three co-related fears (perhaps these are aspects of the same fear): their fear of loss, the fear of daring what is good for them and the fear of being abnormal. The anxiety of missing opportunities, or making the wrong choices, of not having what others have, or being alone and not belonging generates panic, stress, procrastination or apathy (mental and physical). When we see a virus, we want to flatten the curve and avoid its becoming exponential. We ought to be consequent and get rid of the unhealthy exponential mentality for what we desire also. If we continue to think that the good should be exponentially so, then the bad will also feel exponential. This is explained in more detail in my book on Lacan, jouissance and capitalism.
As we say here in Sweden, growth should be natural, healthy and slow, in other words, “lagom.” In more philosophical terms, this is what the Ancient philosophers called the golden mean. In the sustained middle way and persistent and creative equilibrium of forces is the healing power. For Aristotle, courage is a mean between cowardice and rashness. Courage is the only thing that can prevent timidity and rage, which are two sides of the same harmful attitude. Now you will perhaps go for a walk and ask yourself: at this moment of my biography, am I being coward, rash or sanely courageous?