CLARIN

The Pandemic, And The Siren Song Of Demagoguery

Like the last century's world wars, the COVID-19 crisis is causing trauma on a global scale and opening the door to enticing but deeply dangerous political impulses.

Will the situation impose a closed, or an open society?
Will the situation impose a closed, or an open society?
Loris Zanatta

-OpEd-

The pandemic is not a war, but like wars, it raises big questions. What caused it? How do we come out of it? How to avoid its recurrence? Diagnosis and answers are connected here.

The situation also gives rise to an old dilemma: Will it impose a closed, or an open society? Will we be seduced by dangerous visions of a tight-knit tribe to protect us from the menacing ocean? There is enough trauma for the recoil instinct to prevail.

When history becomes a hostile place, and life a dangerous exercise, people begin entertaining thoughts of sterilizing the first and protecting the second, by shutting themselves in a familiar place. Utopias have accompanied humanity since Plato's Republic. The Platonic state or the City of God is an oft-recurring fantasy of the world kept in check. That is the yearning of populism and its collectivizing urges: a homogeneous people and a closed society, behind a solid door.

Conflict is life, change is the norm and recurring trial-and-error, inevitable.

The closed society triumphed after World War I. Not in all places, but almost. Nationalism was one of its main causes, as many believed they would find safety in its torrid embrace. Cultural uniformity, economic autarchy, autocracy, a sense of belonging, and pride in one's identity all seemed like umbrellas against history's bluster.

Those who chose more cooperation, democracy and free trade were defeated: The open society, exposed to the winds of its time and its own unpredictable, unstable and conflictive nature, survived only where it was born — in Anglo-Saxon countries.

Yet coexistence did not work inside, or between, closed societies. Internally, calls for unanimity stifled liberties and fueled the desire to recover them. Internationally they provoked another war. Nationalists hardly love each other.

At the end of World War II, the open society prevailed, at least in the Western world. Frontiers expanded, and later brought down the walls of closed societies. Then followed an extraordinary period of economic growth, social mobility, political participation and international cooperation. There were also ideological conflicts, social confrontation, the end of empires, sexual revolution, etc.

Like it or not, open societies are like this: Conflict is life, change is the norm and recurring trial-and-error, inevitable. While this dark side kept alive a vague nostalgia for closed societies, in eastern Europe and Latin America, decades of oppression opened the doors to the open society. Now these same societies are facing their own, nostalgic backlash: It's cyclical.

Evidently neither model of society exists in its pure state and each includes ingredients of the other. Like a good recipe though, the trick is in the proportions.

Commemorating COVID deaths — Photo: Diego Radames/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

So, which type of society will emerge from the pandemic? Which is the most desirable? Is it better to take inspiration from the end of the First or of the Second World War? Some contend that dramatic social conditions and a sense of vulnerability have reached a point where the closed society seems destined to win. This is understandable. Everywhere, the apocalyptic party has the wind in its sails.

Nothing will be the same again, they claim (with scant historical sense). We must start all over. The apocalypse wants to be redeemed. It is impervious to the fact that evil exists in history. It always seeks scapegoats to blame, in spite of the dubious links it finds. And crises that encourage this mindset, be it the pandemic, global warming or local wars, are always out there.

The disaster party is quick to find its culprits: liberal globalization, plotting powers, greedy banks, corrupt politicians. And the solutions — a return to nature, native renaissance, worship "the people" and its purity. In other words, the closed society ...

The loftier the goal, the more horrors it justifies in the process.

It is not a sustainable narrative, though one may ask if it can provide at least a sensible, feasible solution. Like the thinker Karl Popper, I see it as a remedy worse than the ailment it would cure. The idea of eliminating evil by shutting out history and restoring the supposed purity of the past is a powerful illusion, but a dangerous one.

And the more powerful it is, the more dangerous it becomes. The loftier the goal, the more horrors it justifies in the process. What won't we do to "protect" ourselves?

That, after all, is what happened after World War I. The open society, with its modest pragmatism, isn't as seductive. It doesn't promise anything beyond its prerogatives, like identity, community and belonging. It rests on our responsibility, respects our freedom and gauges our civic culture.

All this may appear abstract but is, in fact, quite specific. The present vaccination campaigns finely illustrate the differences between open and closed societies. Those of the first are universal in character, and the latter, tribal. The more open the society, the more universal its vaccination criteria, and the more closed, the more discriminatory they become.

Open societies have ordered vaccinations beginning with those most at risk. On the other side, there has been jostling by sectors: firms, lawyers, teachers, professionals or trade unions. Not to mention cronies. It's best to tie ourselves to the mast like Ulysses and not succumb to the closed society's siren song. It is enticing, but deadly.


*Loris Zanatta is professor of Latin American history at Bologna University.

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New Delhi, India: Fumigation Against Dengue Fever In New Delhi

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 வணக்கம்*

Welcome to Thursday, where America's top general reacts to China's test of a hypersonic weapon system, Russia is forced to reimpose lockdown measures and Venice's historic gondola race is hit by a doping scandal. French daily Les Echos also offers a cautionary tale of fraud in the crypto economy.

[*Vaṇakkam, Tamil - India, Sri Lanka, Singapore]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Top U.S. general says Chinese weapon nearly a "Sputnik moment": China recently conducted a "very concerning" test of a hypersonic weapon system as part of its push to expand space and military technologies, Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg News. America's top military officer said that this was akin to the Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, 1957, which sparked the Cold War space race. Milley also called the test of the weapon "a very significant technological event" that is just one element of China's military capabilities.

Brexit: France seizes British trawler: A British trawler has been seized by France while fishing in French waters without a license, amid escalating conflict over post-Brexit fishing rights. France's Minister for Europe said it will adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all of its boats until it awards licenses to French fishermen.

COVID update: Russia confirmed a new record of coronavirus deaths, forcing officials to reimpose some lockdown measures, including a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November. Germany also saw its numbers spike, with more than 28,000 new infections yesterday, adding to worries about restrictions this winter there and elsewhere in Europe. Singapore, meanwhile, reported the biggest surge in the city-state since the coronavirus pandemic began. Positive news on the vaccine front, as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck granted royalty-free license for a COVID-19 antiviral pill to help protect people in the developing world.

Iran nuclear talks to resume: Iran's top nuclear negotiator said multilateral talks in Vienna with world powers about its nuclear development program will resume before the end of November. The announcement comes after the U.S. warned efforts to revive the deal were in "critical phase."

First U.S. passport with "X" gender marker: The U.S. State Department has issued its first American passport with an "X" gender marker. It is designed to give nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people a marker other than male or female on their travel document. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina and Nepal, already offer the same option.

China limits construction of super skyscrapers: China has restricted smaller cities in the country from building extremely tall skyscrapers, as part of a larger bid to crack down on wasteful vanity projects by local governments. Earlier this year the country issued a ban on "ugly architecture."

Doping scandal hits Venice's gondola race: For the first time in the history of the Venice Historical Regatta, a participant has tested positive to marijuana in a doping test: Gondolier Renato Busetto, who finished the race in second place, will be suspended for 13 months.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"End of the ice age," titles German-language Luxembourgish daily Luxemburger Wort, writing about how the ice melting in the Arctic opens up new economic opportunities with a new passage for countries like Russia and China but with potentially devastating effects for the environment. The issue of the Arctic is one of the topics that will be discussed at the COP26 Climate Change Conference which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$87 billion

A new United Nations report found that extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts have caused India an average annual loss of about $87 billion in 2020. India is among the countries which suffered the most from weather hazards this year along with China and Japan.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Air Next: How a crypto scam collapsed on a single spelling mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy from Laurence Boisseau in Paris-based daily Les Echos.

📲 The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system. Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation.

📝 On Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, the CEO admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

⚠️ What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond". Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


📣 VERBATIM

"A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round."

— Following the Oct. 21 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza told a press conference that the "facts are clear" about the final moments before Hutchins was shot. The investigation continues to determine what led up to that moment, and any possible criminal responsibility related to how the "prop" gun that actor Alec Baldwin fired was loaded.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Share with us your favorite gondola memories or worst crypto scams — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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