In 1997, Manuel Castells published The Power of Identity warning about the danger of globalisation in a world ill-equipped to control its own expansion. Castells criticised the UN, accusing the top bureaucrats of lack of action and misunderstanding of the nature of a global society facing unprecedented human migration, multi-national production chains, competition and artificial economic stimulation.
The book discusses the practical faults within our systems which promote geo-political competition on one hand, while economies are driven by inefficient externalised production chains, on another hand. Global market fragility and profit-driven progress have become realities which are now making the crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic difficult to manage.
For over two decades now, the scientific community launched repeated warning that a pandemic was inevitable, but our socio-economic systems are still taken by surprise, and are unprepared for, the current social, medical and economic challenges.
The pandemic undoubtedly offers a few lessons for us all. Lessons about what deserves to be trusted and valued, appreciated and developed in the years to come after this. The principle of ‘Après moi, le déluge’ [‘after me, the flood‘] has become a danger threatening to destabilise, if not destroy, communities. If ‘a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian jungle, and subsequently a storm ravages half of Europe’ (Edward Lorenz) then we need to accept the reality that we are as safe as the weakest among us. The way out of a crisis comes when we manage to understand the basic principles which brought up our chaos.
Governments have been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic for five months already, and the best shot at managing it is the fierce competition between research centres to produce their own test kits and vaccines. As borders shut between countries that, not long ago, had common economic interests, contracts for protective equipment are signed electronically. The higher bidder wins. Always wins.
As the race for the next Nobel in medicine takes ground, communities struggle to make sense of what constitutes a necessary journey out in town, at a time when years of prosperity have been wiped off the economic whiteboard in a matter of days. It shows how fragile the system was in the first place, how easy it can be to undermine the stability of societies that get their priorities wrong. Across Britain, the political class has given itself another year in employment, with local elections postponed until 7 May 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The employed majority finds itself at the mercy of financial rescue packages, negotiating the small print of bureaucracy.
Unprecedented times, precedented actions.
© Maria Stadnicka, 23 April 2020
You can also read ‘Power to the Powerful’, February 2020.