Friday, 10 July 2020

The Corona Crisis Reveals the Struggle for Our Future

by Dirk Helbing

For a long time, experts have warned of the implications of a non-sustainable world, but few have understood the implications. Today’s economic system would enter a terminal phase, before a new kind of system would raise from the ashes. For sure, the digital revolution allowed the machinery of utility maximization to reach new heights. Today’s surveillance capitalism sells our digital doubles, in other words: detailed digital copies of our lives. It became increasingly clear that we would be next. People were already talking about the value of life, which, from a market point of view, could be pretty little – considering the fact of over-population and the coming wave of robotic automation. I have warned that some have worked on systems that would autonomously decide over lives and deaths of people, based on a citizen score reflecting what their “systemic value” was claimed to be.

Then came the Corona Virus. Even though the world had been warned in advance of the next great pandemic to come, COVID-19 hit the world surprisingly unprepared. Even though it started to spread in early December 2019, there was a shortage not only of respirators, but also of disinfectants and face masks as late as April 2020. And so, many people died an early death. Some doctors took triage decisions as in war times, and old or seriously ill people did not stand good chances to be helped. Some doctors relied on “terminal care”: basically, they gave opiates and sleeping pills to patients they could not save, and put them to death.


In the past 75 years, we have perhaps never been that close to the end of civilization. The fundamental principles of civil society were at stake. From one week to the other, driven by fear, we have lost much of our human rights: the freedom of mobility, the freedom of assembly, the freedom of worship, and – some of us – even the right to live. We were all prisoners at home and could not check the validity of news. Never before did we get so much information and learned so little. Some people called for mass surveillance, for immunity certificates, for obligatory tests and (later on) for forced vaccination. We were just one millimeter away from a totalitarian state. Some countries, like Hungary, lost their democracies over these events. This could have easily happened around the world, given that we could not exercise our constitutional rights.


We have seen that a threat, which was dangerous for many lives, but not for humanity as such, was amplified by the media into a storm of fear and mass hysteria, such that it became a serious threat for our society, civilization and culture, which we have built over centuries. For sure, the economic system has been seriously damaged.


However, in this historical situation, we have made up our minds and figured out what really matters. We have realized that lives are more important than money. We have decided for solidarity. We have protected our democracy, which actually mastered the greatest challenge it had ever seen – contrary to the expectations of many. And even in times of lockdown and fear, we have not decided to give up our privacy and informational self-determination. Instead, we have promoted a new framework for the digital society – one, which is based on decentralization, values and empowerment. One, which even Google and Apple have to respect. So, we are seeing the dawn of a new society. A civilization based on respect for each other and for nature. It may take years to realize that it was a nasty virus that helped us build a more livable, more sustainable future together.


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