On Wednesday 29 April, Dialogue of Civilizations held the third webinar in its series titled “Global Pandemic: The Way Forward.” The third discussion focussed on the impact that COVID-19 will have on human values and societies, with DOC CEO Jean-Christophe posing the question of whether this crisis will create greater cohesion amongst communities and contribute to a sense of one greater humanity transcending different civilisations, or whether a great blame game will ensue.
Hakima Al Haité, climate change scientist and politician, President of International Liberal, and former Vice President of the COP21 and former Minister of Environment in Morocco, opened the discussion by highlighting the massive and widespread impact the crisis has had on human life. No crisis of climate, migration, economy, or terrorism has ever galvanised such dramatic global action. In contrast to all previous political or economic crises, COVID-19 touches on the core of the system – ‘the human’. Ms Al Haité asserted that the lessons are not easy; this crisis will teach us humility, and that we can learn from each other and show one another solidarity. It is also evident that COVID-19 is laying the foundations for the emergence of a new world. Whether this will be a better world remains to be seen and unfortunately, Ms Al Haité says, some countries will turn this crisis to their geo-strategic advantage. Looking ahead, she states that a better world will only emerge if we recognise that our health and prosperity are interdependent – that the wealthy depend on the poorest and vice versa. Furthermore, humanity must prioritise ecological protection. Humanity’s relationship to nature is at the root of this crisis, and without change our stubborn model of development will produce more crises in the future.
Ruben Vardanyan, entrepreneur and philanthropist, and co-founder of Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO, affirmed the need for more dialogue in order to overcome the crisis. He believes that in many respects the pre-crisis moment was arguably the best time in history and the worst time in history. Besides the last recession and its after-effects, life has been steadily improving. However, he said, the crisis has exacerbated a number of different crises that have been ongoing below the surface.
Mr Vardanyan points out that, in another paradoxical instance, COVID-19 has forced us to be more local, whilst also globalising our perspectives, giving the example of some Armenians hearing of far-flung cities like Wuhan for the first time. He maintains that we are becoming more interconnected, as the state depends more on society, and no country remains completely disconnected in the long term. “Only together can we find solutions,” he said.
KJ Alphons, former Minister of Culture of India, and member of Indian Parliament, calls for a reevaluation of humanity’s relationship with the environment. He laments the disparities and xenophobia that we have created, and calls for a rethink of our ethical basis. He believes that human society has lost something along the way – either a sense of religiosity or spirituality – and that global society could be reformed, placing happiness more centrally than material gains.
The audience of global participants submitted questions to the experts, raising concerns about sustaining the momentum of current goodwill agitating for structural change, and about the receding role of religion and spirituality in society. To the former, Ms Al Haité affirmed that we must place our trust in multilateral organisations again, whilst involving voices from civil society. There is too much mistrust in multilateral organisations, and this has been to the detriment of the WHO and thus the handling of this crisis. She calls for a reform of the WHO, and for more funding from states. Mr Vardanyan raised the point that education must be reformed after COVID-19 in order to support sustained dialogues on international issues. The relationship between states and institutions on the one hand, he said, and individuals and networks on the other, must be rebalanced. After COVID-19, a new social contract will need developing, to manage fears relating to the abuse of state and institutional powers in the wake of new technological controls such as facial recognition. Mr Alphons maintained that executive decision-making needs to be enabled within the boundaries of acceptable democratic practice, while consulting and utilising wisdom from people at local levels. Furthermore, he added that education is key and that values should be taught that promote mutual happiness rather than materialistic versions of the American Dream.
With regard to the role of religion, Mr Vardanyan affirmed that all crises produce new religious groups, and that extremes will arise. This can involve regressive returns to religious traditions as well as new ideas, for example, the worship of AI. Ms Al Haité maintained that this crisis will not lessen religiosity, as group ceremonies are missed amongst Muslim communities during Ramadan for example. Mr Alphons, in agreement with Mr Vardanyan, stated that the fear created by this crisis will give rise to religious revival, and that it is possible that more conservative forms of religion will arise. However, he maintains that what is needed is more spirituality that leads to better inter-human relationships.
Dr Vladimir Yakunin, Chairman of the DOC Research Institute, highlighted in his concluding remarks how this crisis should make us rethink the basic values of society: solidarity, mutual aid, responsibility. Our structures have limited broader perspectives of ‘the other’, and discovering difference should imply the celebration of diversity.
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