Globalization unstoppable despite its contribution to virus spread
The worldwide coronavirus crisis can be compared to a volcanic eruption that came after a long boiling process, which was accelerated by decades of unrestrained globalization. Once the volcano is quiet again, nature usually takes over and life gradually comes back to normal, however slowly, and with a different order and shape to things. Indeed, before the coronavirus crisis is even over, governments all around the world are already looking — both alone and together — for practices that will enable normal life to return and citizens to socialize again. Some of the most popular issues up for discussion are the timings and what the new normality will look like, from issues such as borders, traveling and older people to wider issues like investments in health systems, the future economy, international relations and global cooperation.
At this point, it is important to ask some simple questions about the widespread and global distribution of the pandemic — and here the consequences of globalization cannot be ignored. There is no doubt that a similar epidemic 30 years ago would not have spread so rapidly, efficiently and to such an extent. The changes in life patterns around the world in the last generation are not the cause of the epidemic, but they have brought about the incredible global scale of its distribution. Globalization has many positive aspects: It has greatly contributed to raising the standard of living of broad strata, the removal of border barriers, and cheap flights that are within the reach of tens of millions, allowing mass tourism — all of which have become widely accepted. But there are no free meals. Analysis of the first few people infected in many countries shows that most of them had just returned to their home nations from abroad, and it is clear they contracted the virus while they were away.
The process of globalization, which was most popular in the late 1990s and early this millennium, has been seriously criticized in recent years. It has lost its absolute acceptance and is widely attributed to the rise of right-wing movements around the world. From the “America First” of the Trump administration to the Brexit process inspired by Nigel Farage and the establishment of the Alternative for Germany party, one can easily see the side-effects of the process of globalization. The word “globalization,” which was previously used positively in many speeches and policies, is not in use anymore. The word that led the international affairs agenda for years has simply vanished — nobody is mentioning it and nobody is using it to build policies. It has almost become a dirty word.
Each of us must understand that we probably can have our life back, but we need to contribute to the healing process.
Mark C. Donfried
The problem, however, is that the process of globalization is continuing and even gets stronger year after year. There will be no return to the Stone Age or walled cities and there is no room for outdated systems; only real and modern interdependence. Governments and the people of the world would not accept such a retreat. American corporations Google and Facebook need the people of the world, just like Germany’s auto and machinery industries do. The people of the world need each other for protection (just imagine what would happen under dictatorships without any international outcry) and global health can be ensured by international pharmaceutical corporations. “No man is an island,” wrote John Donne, while Aristotle summed up this essential human affinity for other people by saying, “Man is by nature a social animal.” Karl Marx put it as: “Man is a species-being.” They are all right, as we all need each other.
In the Bible, Ecclesiastes 1:9 states: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Does this all mean that the process of globalization will continue and our world will look like it did before? Probably yes, but with changes, and we will all need to contribute to and support its healing and further development. Each of us must understand that we probably can have our life back, but we need to contribute to the healing process. Our governments and institutions must come together and use their might in order to find the origin of this pandemic. They need to make sure that further similar instances will be avoided and that global issues will be addressed. From climate change, freedom for all people, equality and global justice to cultural habits (food, drink, travel, hobbies, etc.), they all need to move to the top of the global dialogue. Our role, as always, is to make sure that the continuation of a positive path is secured.
And what about the current crisis? I predict that, in the medium term, a vaccine and medicine will be found and provided, our defensive practices to avoid mass contagion will prevail, and the origin of the virus will be found.
- Mark C. Donfried is director general at the Berlin-based Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.