A pandemic and the future by Ekene Okwechime

The world is ill-prepared to respond to a severe influenza pandemic or to any similarly global, sustained and threatening public-health emergency. International Health Regulations Review Committee (2011)

 

Freedoms are fragile. The coronavirus pandemic shows how fragile our individual freedoms are — and even overrated. The basic perception is that we have to do something wrong to lose our freedoms. When in fact we have to do nothing to lose freedoms. Throughout history, the loss of or lack of freedom has been the norm and freedom itself has been the exception.

The terms self-isolation and social distancing were the preludes to a complete lockdown of most towns and cities. Ultimately these are political statements masquerading as scientific advice. However, given the lack of testing capabilities, it has been right that there has been a lockdown.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, we preoccupied ourselves with god-like causes like ‘saving’ the environment and social justice. We ignored the scientific and technological stagnation around us. Science was left in the hands of intellectual mediocres and pious charlatans. Most importantly, we need to move away from the science of governance to the science of discovery.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, we preoccupied ourselves with god-like causes like ‘saving’ the environment and social justice.

Moving forward, globalization is dead as an idea — and it should remain that way. Take the four quadrants of globalization: the movement of people; the movement of goods; the movement of finance and movement of ideas — for a variety of reasons, we have been invested in the globalization project hook, line, and sinker. And for many decades these ideas have not worked, especially the first two and maybe all four. It is unclear if globalization has not worked because of technological stagnation or vice versa but serious societies have to find ways to shift the dial and form a resistance to the one world approach. If you are in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), globalization is what you need. As in you copy what has worked elsewhere in the developed world.

But if there is nothing to copy? That is the problem with globalization: a world convergence where everything is meant to be the same. During the cold war, countries around the world were classed in the ‘First World’ and the ‘Third World’. Today we talk about the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries, which implies that one is developed, done and nothing new can come out of it, while the other just has to copy. Thereby creating a globalization convergence plateau.

There is a technology stagnation in the West and the coronavirus pandemic has exposed absurdities in society. The causes we champion, for now, have to be redefined. Should the much-touted green jobs be simply digitally transformed jobs? We have to ask ourselves questions about the self-employed: are there too many personal trainers, yoga and Zumba instructors and singer-songwriters? Should we offer more assurances to workers on zero-hours contracts: like food delivery drivers and warehouse operators?

A move from innovation solely for comfort and entertainment to one for resilence and humanity is needed. There are still secrets in science and technology to be discovered. The mass working from home indicates that there is probably little need for offices and might be the solution to social isolation. Our iPhones distracted us from the fact it takes about 20 years for a new drug to be approved and we traveled slower than we did 20 years ago. We also ignored the fact that we still live in houses and ride in trains that are more than a hundred years old.

The mass working from home indicates that there is probably little need for offices and might be the solution to social isolation.

Moving on, society has to rethink how it operates, such as the nature of work. Just like how Airbnb has redefined the nature of tourism by freeing up inventory and growing the sector. Broadly, many aspects of society need to be radically redefined. For instance, a lot of workers had difficulty working from home and social distancing. It makes one then wonder why are firms not nimble, agile and resilient? Do firms from call centers to doctor’s practices need to work more remotely? And this does not mean outsourcing abroad. Should houses and the built environment have new specifications? For instance, places like 10 Downing Street, an old Victorian building with narrow corridors and tiny offices, was a breeding ground for the coronavirus.

Freedom should be a proxy for accelerated scientific and technological growth. Our loss of freedom is a result of technological stagnation. If and when things get back to normal, we must always remember that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

A pandemic and the future was written by Ekene Okwechime, a lecturer at a university in Scotland. 

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