Will we come out of this better than when we entered?


Do we learn from crisis?

Although the peak of the COVID-19 crisis is perhaps still to come for most of us, it is clear that the pandemic will end someday and that humanity will survive, yet it is equally clear that the world will have changed inexorably. What it might look like, how will our value systems have changed as well as our attitude towards things, other people, and art – are questions that has posed over these last days (in the form of an email interview) to many people intrinsically involved in the art world.

The opinion of Petr Pudil, the Czech businessman and art activist

How do you feel in this new reality which is neither a book nor a sci-fi film, and is happening to all of us in the here and now?

Nobody expected such a scenario, me neither. It’s shocking how fragile the system is, it doesn’t matter if you talk about health care, economy or democracy. It probably reflects the lack of self-preservation instincts and policies, which we missed during an unprecedented period of stability, peace and prosperity. We heavily underestimated the potential risks around us. All mainstream concepts like the “just-in time” supply chain, short-term profit consideration or shoreless social policy blunted our senses to reflect on the potential risks. We are not prepared for any pandemic, we allocated resources to our comfortable lifestyles instead of developing adequate capacities for such an outbreak. I count myself as responsible for this mistake. There was more than enough indication that such a pandemic can occur. We ignored them.

But what is even worse are overreactions around us. If you look how Orban abusing situation to create a new dictatorship in Hungary, or how quickly we destroyed Schengen, and we gave up many freedoms in fear of one disease. We closed borders, divided families across the continent, chained our kids at home without the necessary social contacts, the evacuation of very old COVID positive people to dedicated areas reminiscent of concentration camps. All this happened in two weeks and nobody, actually, knows for how long. We are totally unprepared and making fatal mistakes driven by fear. We have much more dangerous diseases and other events endangering our life than COVID. As a result of that we are entering into the deepest recession since WWII.

COVID-19 has achieved in a matter of months what the climate change movement and frequent formal meetings between heads of state have failed to. Everybody talked about the need to ‘get out of the bubble’, but nothing ever really changed. The emergence of the coronavirus has served as a kind of ‘higher power’, showing humans their true place in the planet's ecosystem.

The question is, are people even capable of comprehending this ‘shutting off’ of the world that we are in right now? Can we learn from it, and is it possible to permanently retain what we learn? So far, modern society has responded to the situation by pushing the economic shutdown button (taking into consideration that the virus is not quite as wholly destructive as the plague). Yet the question is much more fundamental than that. Once it is all over, will people realize that we need to change? Will we come out of this better than when we entered? Or perhaps in the future, when we look back on this, it will turn out to only have been ‘a gentle warning’…?

You are right that we completely lost humility, we are not controlling a planet. As William Kentridge said: “we are only  human beings who are always trying to construct a coherence from whatever fragments we get, and even if the fragments are imperfect, or even wrong, that doesn’t stop us from imagining what that world could be. And that seems to be one of the fundamental characteristics of what it is to be human. It’s this insatiable need to make sense of the world as it presents itself to us”.

People believed that science and prosperity can protect us against any new disease, we simply replaced religion by science adoration.

COVID is not a “high power”, it’s a new disease as dozens of others we suffer from. We still don’t know everything about COVID to make a final consideration but it’ s definitely not as dangerous as the plague or other fatal diseases. I think that we are overestimating our science capabilities in the medical field. We are still at the beginning of the journey however we are making a big progress year by year. People believed that science and prosperity can protect us against any new disease, we simply replaced religion by science adoration. To be clear, I’m a big fan of science, heavily investing in biotech but we should be more realistic about our recent knowledge in that field.

It is clear that the world will have changed after this crisis. The question is – how will it have changed...and is it even capable of undergoing fundamental change? Since the start of the industrial revolution, the world has largely followed a path of aggressive capitalism. Priorities have been production and technological advancements, work, income, prosperity, and an incessant race for competitive advantage – all of which constitute a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Will this shock to the system be strong enough to cause a paradigm shift in human values?

It’ s unpredictable, you are right that it’s a decisive period of time defining the direction of the world for the upcoming decades. Nobody knows the result. But there are some clear outcomes visible already. Significant decline of worldwide GDP meaning less money for everything, including health care and art. States, people and corporates will lose a lot of wealth. We don’t know if all the stakeholders will absorb that in a peace. As in all other crises there’s massive incentive for all innovations, the key drivers for a new growth and prosperity. Digitalisation rapidly came into our lives, a lot of agenda can be done digitally, but personal social contact will remain unreplaceable. Revaluation of globalisation is inevitable, but it’s not an easy process.

Revaluation of globalisation is inevitable, but it’s not an easy process.

How long do you think a person can continue to be productive while self-isolating?  Prolonged exposure to internal stress, panic, and fear can also lead to health problems, even quite serious ones, that pose no less of a long-term risk to human health than the coronavirus does.

We are unprepared for such a pandemic, so we are missing rational, ready-made tools and programmes. We see chaos and improvisation. You can see very different approaches around the world, like Sweden where the lockdown is not applicated on one side and France on the other side with very strict measures. I think that it’s very good that we can compare outcomes and linkage afterwards from all countries. There is a massive need to do a proper research to understand all the differences in infectivity and mortality in a context of existing reactions.

If society is able to move in a positive direction, how do you see this future balance between good and evil?

Devil was, is and will be present inside of us. It’s one of our biggest missions in life to eliminate this devil. COVID doesn’t change anything about it.

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