On Sunday, Time magazine published a brilliant article, “In the Battle Against Coronavirus, Humanity Lacks Leadership” by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a must-read piece that gives us an overview of pandemics throughout human history and shows the progress we have made, thanks to science. Mr Harari concludes his article with the following phrase:
“Humanity has been winning the war against epidemics because in the arms race between pathogens and doctors, pathogens rely on blind mutations while doctors rely on the scientific analysis of information.”
If I would highlight one thing from this article, it would be the question does humanity lack leadership? Do we ever! We have plenty of strong leaders in business, science, media, technology, sports, etc, but what we the people are missing most is real political power. It’s a structural problem: the political and social institutions have lost their strength and can no longer compete against corporations and the money machine. For over 20 years, the attack against our political systems has been systematic and brutal, monetizing every possible human interaction (lobbying, privatizing, de-unionizing, mediatizing, indebting, monopolizing everything).
This process is well illustrated in these few paragraphs on Global Capital from the “Sixth Letter to My Friends” written by Silo in August 7, 1993:
“This is the great universal truth: Money is everything. Money is government, money is law, money is power. Money is basically sustenance, but more than this it is art, it is philosophy, it is religion. Nothing is done without money, nothing is possible without money. There are no personal relationships without money, there is no intimacy without money. Even peaceful solitude depends on money.
But our relationship with this “universal truth” is contradictory. Most people do not like this state of affairs. And so we find ourselves subject to the tyranny of money – a tyranny that is not abstract, for it has a name, representatives, agents, and well-established procedures.
Today, we are no longer dealing with feudal economies, national industries, or even regional interests. Today, the question is how the surviving economic forms will accommodate to the new dictates of international finance capital. Nothing escapes, as capital worldwide continues to concentrate in ever fewer hands – until even the nation state depends for its survival on credit and loans. All must beg for investment and provide guarantees that give the banking system the ultimate say in decisions. The time is fast approaching when even companies themselves, when every rural area as well as every city, will all be the undisputed property of the banking system. The time of the para-state is coming, a time in which the old order will be swept away.
At the same time, the traditional bonds of solidarity that once joined people together are fast dissolving. We are witnessing the disintegration of the social fabric, and in its place find millions of isolated human beings living disconnected lives, indifferent to each other despite their common suffering. Big capital dominates not only our objectivity, through its control of the means of production, but also our subjectivity, through its control of the means of communication and information.
Under these conditions, those who control capital have the power and technology to do as they please with both our material and our human resources. They deplete irreplaceable natural resources and act with growing disregard for the human being. And just as they have drained everything from companies, industries, and whole governments, so have they deprived even science of its meaning – reducing it to technologies used to generate poverty, destruction, and unemployment.
Humanists do not overstate their case when they contend that the world is now technologically capable of swiftly resolving the problems in employment, food, health care, housing, and education that exist today across vast regions of the planet. If this possibility is not being realized, it is simply because it is prevented by the monstrous speculation of big capital.
By now big capital has exhausted the stage of market economies, and has begun to discipline society to accept the chaos it has itself produced. Yet in the presence of this growing irrationality, it is not the voices of reason that we hear raised in dialectical opposition. Rather, it is the darkest forms of racism, fundamentalism, and fanaticism that are on the rise. And if groups and whole regions are increasingly guided by this new irrationalism, then the space for constructive action by progressive forces will diminish day by day.” (Letter to My Friends is available here in many languages.)
In most countries, there is no political power capable of creating the social conditions for a long-term development. Today politicians are “elected” to destroy any social and/or political institutions in order to give space to new business opportunities. Just few days ago we could read on our news feed how this has impacted our ability to respond to health crises (“Trump disbanded NSC pandemic unit that experts had praised” 03/14/2020 AP News). Space development is facing the same privatization process as everything else (“NASA opens ISS to private astronauts, more space companies” 06/07/2019 Axios).
Some Asian countries have not yet reached this level of disorientation, and political forces there are dealing with the coronavirus in a very different ways. (“How South Korea is handling the coronavirus outbreak better than other countries” 03/13/2020 The Hill).
Humanity is not just facing its biggest health crisis of the century but will have to fight for its own existence on many different fronts. Are we not seeing the warning signs? Just a few months ago the wildfires in Australia rapidly spread across all states to become the most devastating on record; an area about the size of South Korea, roughly 25.5 million acres, has burned. And the 2020 Doomsday Clock Announcement is grave (“Closer than ever: It is 100 seconds to midnight“). Humanity continues to face these two existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change—which are, in turn, compounded by a threat multiplier of cyber-enabled information warfare that undercuts society’s ability to respond. The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.