Back to normal?

Defeating the coronavirus is indispensable, but what matters even more in the future is to free the life of human beings and the earth from the predatory and socially violent economic system and life system, which has favoured, among other things, the emergence and spread of the pandemic

This article was published on 6 April 2020 on the site Other News and is republished here with permission. Its author si the Italian political scientist and economist Riccardo Petrella. Petrella has a PhD in Political Sciences from the University of Florence. He is a prof. emeritus of Globalisation at the Catholic University of Louvain and dr. honoris causa of eight universities. In 1991, he founded the so-called Lisbon Group, a collective of political leaders, and in 1997 he established the International Committee for a global water contract (of which he is the general secretary).

I hope not. Guido Viale has written some wise things about this, explaining why a “return to normal” would be a return to catastrophe. And yet, in China and, recently also in North Korea, the return to the state of before, to the effervescent state of cities that never sleep in a continuous flow of people, goods, cars, factories operating 24 hours a day, a rush for money, for consumption… is given as certain. It is celebrated as a victory, a positive sign of how today’s human societies, well organized, based on collective responsibility and respecting extraordinary, strict and severe emergency rules, are able to defeat the most serious pandemics.

In the United States, mobilization in the fight against the climate disaster is losing ground to that against the coronavirus. Everything is focused on the pandemic.  In Italy, the data on contagion and deaths only showed some signs of decline – such as a slowdown in growth rates – and all the local media jostled to ask when it would already be possible to loosen containment and social distension measures to “regain the freedom” to leave the house, breathe garden air, go to the sea, travel, work … to “live again … as before”.

This is a very understandable reaction dictated, in my opinion, not so much by lightness and unconsciousness as by the feeling of liberation from the fear of getting sick or even losing one’s life because of the coronavirus.

The coronavirus generated the first great planetary fear of a viral threat. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong. The fact is it happened. Everything else, the social crises and the climate emergency, have lost their importance for now. The fear of death, which is essentially individual even if it is expressed, as it is today, by hundreds of millions of people, has redefined priorities. There is no doubt that the melting of glaciers, the devastation of forests, the sharp loss of biodiversity and the predicted water shortage will have devastating effects in 10 to 20 to 50 years’ time, and to pay the price will be above all the impoverished, the excluded, the farmers, the workers, while the most resilient, the richest, the financially and technologically strongest, it is said and believed, “they will make it”. The pandemic, on the contrary, is killing, destroying families and disrupting local economies around the world now. The choral cry “we will make it” is sincere but it is very much imbued with individual, family, “local-national” survival. Think of the “nationalist” rhetoric that is currently blowing in Italy (as well as in other countries of the world) and which is very convenient for “national” companies for their international competitiveness!

We will have to wait a few more months, if not longer, for confirmation or not, based on empirical evidence, that the world population will have learned the right lesson: defeating the coronavirus is indispensable, what matters even more for the future is to free the life of human beings and the earth from the predatory and socially violent economic and life system that has poisoned our relationship with nature and destroyed the biological balance of the planet, favouring, among other things, the emergence and spread of the pandemic.

In the meantime, it is up to women and men of reason, young and old, to work for a vast action to raise awareness and sensitize world public opinion, in particular educators, artists, farmers and workers, in favour of a non-return to ‘normality’. Campaigns must be intensified to put an end to military spending and its redirection towards health, hospitals, drinking water, healthy food, public goods essential to life, and  taking away the right of global capital to acquire private property patents on life and artificial intelligence. We must denounce the criminalization of global private speculative finance (tax havens, in particular) and invent new public political institutions, from the municipal to the global level, capable of taking charge of the lives of all the inhabitants of the Earth.

This will be very difficult because the strong economic (and military) powers of the world, the United States, Japan, the European Union, as well as China, India and Russia, are working towards a return to normality, making even the victims of the system that has dominated the world until now believe that it will solve the problems, make us resistant to new pandemics and capable of returning to “growth, well-being, wealth” as before. Fighting against such a criminal mystification is a sane behavior and ethical must.

Photo: Life returns to normal in China after the pandemic was put under control there, but is this the kind of “back to normal” that the world needs? (source: Pixabay, CC0)

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