Will we and our Governments Never be the Same?
“These are strange times”, is what we tell ourselves as most of us spent months indoors, while we watched the news be submerged with one topic and our normal life hit pause. Will this pandemic have an important effect on our relationship with others? How will it impact geopolitics?
Our social circle shrunk, and we had to minimize the number of people we met up with in order to help control the spread of the disease. We avoid touching those who do not live with us. We now wear masks every time we go outside and interact with strangers.
According to The Atlantic, we might be wearing the masks for some time yet, it could become a norm, like it is in Asia. However, one major problem that masks bring is communication. People pick visual cues from facial expressions, especially from the mouth. A study was conducted in a hospital context and showed a significant drop of empathy when doctors wore surgical masks.
Masks can also hinder lip-reading, and make understanding more difficult. Communication might slightly evolve in order to overcome these problems. For example, we may become more expressive physically. It is highly probable that wearing a mask will become much more common if it is enforced long enough, as it offers a sense of security and creates a physical barrier from others.
Social Distancing is the “new normal”
Source: The Atlantic
The relationship with strangers might also suffer as a consequence of this crisis. You might remember that in the early days of the pandemic, there was a surge in anti-Asian racism. Crises do not create racism, they merely offer an occasion, a voice for them. As tension rises, so does hate. Fear of others, especially if from a different origin might persist for some time.
Telecommuting has become more popular, and will probably stay as it reduces costs for companies. Similarly, when it comes to education, although still a work in progress, tele-schooling could have a long-lasting impact. For example, Catherine, a girl in Cameroon, often missed school days because of tensions and shutdowns. However, with the help of the broadcast classes on television, she is able to get access to education every day.
On the downside, many have no access to the internet or other forms of getting an education while schools are closed. The quality of education received is not the same, and social isolation impacts mental health and motivation.
However, there are heavy material consequences for many people. Many companies have fired their employees as a result of the market crashing and the lockdown. Poorer populations have tremendously suffered from the situation. For example, in India more than 400 million people would not have been able to earn a living, leaving those at the bottom of the social ladder without food. In South Africa, extreme poverty is estimated to increase by 7%.
Preventing people from moving means for many preventing them from working. As a result, poor populations and people who have lost their jobs have undoubtedly gone through the biggest change. The poor/rich social divide is being dug deeper, and feelings of injustice grow.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” In other words, when people are feeling unsafe, extreme political ideas gain more popularity.
Inner politics will be affected, and nationalism might surge. Travel bans, export bans, paying to be the first country to get a vaccine and learning to depend less on international markets forces countries into a less globalized dynamic. This can lead to the question if Covid-19 will kill globalization.
It might, however, also lead to the development of other countries such as Vietnam or Indonesia, as countries might try to diversify their production chains to avoid suffering from the consequences of a single country’s economic crash. Similarly, industries will probably seek regionalization, in other words, they will try to bring their production centers closer instead of relying on fragile supply chains.
Supply chains (roughly). The website explains their vulnerability as Chinese economy wavered in 2015.
Governments are also being tested for their handling of the crisis. Economic recessions usually don’t play in favor of reelections, and might for example prevent Trump from being reelected. However, his handling of the situation has gained him some popularity: 44% approve of his actions. The policies a country puts in place has a huge impact on how well the rest unfolds. This could be the number of tests that are given out (helps control and quarantine more efficiently), social funds, and restrictions.
The European Union has been torn by economic decisions, especially when it came to financial solidarity towards its own members. Such a critical situation pushed huge deals onto the table, for example setting a European debt. Depending on how this discussion goes, it could give tremendous power to the EU by supporting struggling countries such as Greece more efficiently. However, it might also not work out so well. The “Frugal Four” (Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden) strongly oppose it, while Germany has changed positions and now endorses the initiative.
EU members have not always reacted solidarily: France seized all masks in the country, Germany prohibited their exportation, including to Europe itself. The one that responded to Italy’s cry for help was China. Nationalism is rising in many members, especially Hungary. The EU might come out very weakened. This deal is also a step opposing the growing protectionism of countries.
Indeed, Trump had already started retracting from international deals, such as the Paris accords (climate), or discussed leaving major ones such as NATO (military). He recently stopped funding WHO, although the US was the main contributor. This implies much less independence and power for the organization. It could potentially make it useless.
China, on the other hand, is sending resources out to other countries, trying to become more present internationally. This might potentially reverse the roles, and China might become the most influential country on the international scene.
Donald Trump (USA) and Xi Jinping (China)
International institutions such as the WHO or the UN are essential to promote global progress. The handling of Covid-19 led to great criticism of WHO. Many have lost faith in international institutions. However, initiatives like the Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to reduce poverty, protect our planet, and promote equality, are essential to improve the world we live in. Someone has to tackle these problems, and it is not by boycotting the issue that it will disappear.
The world will probably change, but it has always been in constant evolution. Furthermore, I do not believe there will be a revolution. New habits will appear, but most of us will probably resume our routines after some time.
Our world will change for the better only if we step in and tell our governments what we want. The fact that people have to choose between starving or getting Covid-19 is absurd. Governments have thankfully mobilized funds to alleviate the problem. Social injustice will probably always exist, however, it is our responsibility as humans to care for others.
The voice we have should be used to defend our rights, to defend others. When people come together, they are heard: take the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s murder as an example. But remember, it only takes one to start a group. If your ideas are worth fighting for, then you will most certainly be followed. Now is the time for solidarity.