The world after coronavirus, Financial Times, March 20 2020, Yuval Noah Harari
Taking Back Control
“Humankind is now facing a global crisis. Perhaps the biggest crisis of our generation. The decisions people and governments take in the next few weeks will probably shape the world for years to come. They will shape not just our healthcare systems but also our economy, politics and culture. We must act quickly and decisively. We should also take into account the long-term consequences of our actions. When choosing between alternatives, we should ask ourselves not only how to overcome the immediate threat, but also what kind of world we will inhabit once the storm passes. Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive — but we will inhabit a different world.”
Through the WI lens
Harari’s piece boils down to two particular choices that he suggests we will be forced to make: “between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment”; and “between nationalist isolation and global solidarity”. It’s the first of these that really resonates at the individual level. Technology has made it possible for governments to monitor all their citizens all the time, not just in their external behaviours, but through “under the skin” data that records everything from their body temperature to their emotions. In China, mobile phones and facial recognition cameras are already being used to help identify COVID19 carriers, to track contacts and to warn people of their proximity to those who are infected. Potentially, the coronavirus provides a pretext for governments to oblige every citizen to wear a biometric bracelet, on the grounds of protecting public health. But the same technology could equally be used by citizens to empower themselves, to monitor their own health and protect themselves, and even to hold the government to account, rather than for authoritarian purposes.
What’s clear is that the genie of biometric data cannot be put back into the bottle; and in the post-virus world personal health will become a much greater priority in all our lives. The challenge for society will be for individuals to take control and to harness the benefits of the technology without sacrificing basic human freedoms that would fundamentally change our lives.
What this article goes on to explain is how positive thinking – described here as ‘thriving’ – can counter the effects that come from the negativity outlined above, from reduced memory to diminished performance. Based on studying people in a series of organisations in different industries, one of the authors has found that people who attain this state are more resilient, experience less burnout, and are more confident in their ability to take control of a situation
“Behind the jargon what this is really about is how we address the challenge of biodiversity under threat, move away from fossil materials like plastic and concrete, and use nature in a sustainable way, all of which could be summed up by “living in harmony with nature”.”
“In the new ‘consensual contract’ between employer and worker, what’s required is a commitment from the employer to safeguard the wellbeing of their people, and a commitment in return from employees to take personal responsibility for their performance of their job.”
“Could loneliness not only be damaging our mental and physical health but also be making the world a more aggressive, angry place? And if so, what are the implications for a cohesive society and democracy?”
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”