Welcome to Wednesday, where global COVID cases exceed 100 million, Biden rings Putin, and space tourism gets ready for launch. We also look at the magnitude (and limitations) of Iran's presence on the African continent, courtesy of Jeune Afrique.
Aristotle to Anti-Vaxxers, internet culture and the decline of reason
The virtues that laid the groundwork for Western civilization's many advances are being eclipsed, it would seem, by an internet-driven rush of irrationality. In an essay for French daily Les Echos, Eric le Boucher writes:
Prudence, justice, courage and decorum are the four cardinal virtues that define what Cicero called honestum, meaning honor. And it's because of those virtues that Western civilization was able to make such strides in mathematics, law, music and architecture, and develop its systems of democracy, noted German sociologist Max Weber.
But are we now, in 2021, losing these virtues? Are we abandoning reason, as understood by the Greeks? Are we fatally drawn towards the darkness of irrationality, anti-science, emotion, fear, and violence?
The attack on Capitol Hill by supporters of Donald Trump is a demonstration of this. And as pathetic as it may seem, it was only one piece in a larger picture that also includes anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.
Reason, it appears, is wavering on all fronts, though not for the first time. Humankind frequently allows the wolf that dwells deep within itself to emerge, despite the advances of education. The horrors of the previous century are a case in point.
So no, this is not the first time. And we must remain optimistic about the strength of our other face, the one that exhibits compassion and reason, and that has always prevailed in the end. Still, there is something new and worrying about our current predicament. Driving this impulse toward irrationality is a technological power that disseminates and seems to legitimize it. We try still to be prudent, but the fight is unequal.
The causes of this outbreak of irrationality are numerous and profound. The first is the sense of blocked horizons. Trade brings with it peace and prosperity that fills bellies and allows humans to set their battles aside. Unfortunately, though, the sharing of the fruits of our labor no longer adheres to the Ciceronian virtue of justice.
Social mobility has been halted. Wages are stagnating. Education no longer necessarily leads to good careers. The rewards of the school system aren't what we had hoped for. Those with the highest incomes stir up jealousy and resentment. And then there's the COVID-19 pandemic, which only reinforces this social bitterness since it accentuates inequalities between generations, income, housing, and education.
The second cause is globalization, which brings with it global warming, global pandemics, and fosters the emergence of cyber threats and cyber warfare. These challenges wash over us like a flood. Responding to them requires global cooperation, but cooperation between nations is decelerating.
How political systems respond to all this is a third cause. Greek reason knew how to make room for luck and risk. As Aristotle taught, chance is unmanageable. But today, impatience, stirred up by the media, has overthrown "the tragic humanism that invites man to want all that is possible but only what is possible, and to leave the rest to the gods," as French philosopher and Aristotle specialist Pierre Aubenque wrote.
Our leaders are no longer allowed to fumble through, even though it's entirely normal and reasonable that they should. Hence the difficulties and relentless criticism experienced by the recent governments in France, for example.
For many political leaders, there's a temptation toward populist demagoguery and dogmatism, as seen in the U.S. Republican Party and in Eastern Europe. The same holds true for the other side of the spectrum: on the left, where "identity" radicalism takes hold of the progressive tradition, and where a "sense" of oppression takes precedence over factual analysis.
Add to that the growing number of social networks, which are a formidable tool for the reasonable but, for the unreasonable, places where nuance goes to die.
No nation is immune, and each is affected in its own way. For the United States, it's lies and conspiracy theories. For France, it's a cry-baby psychology and the erasure of individual responsibility behind the guise of the protective state. All mark a loss of confidence in institutions and in the future.
Joe Biden's election and the development of COVID-19 vaccines have brought a glimpse of hope against the evils of the economy, technology, and climate. But to really keep reason alive and well, we'll need to mobilize that other, all-important virtue: courage.
— Eric le Boucher / Les Echos
• COVID-19 latest: The UK becomes the first country in Europe to surpass 100,000 deaths as the global recorded cases tops 100 million. Philippines President Duterte bans children aged 10 - 14 from leaving the house, suggesting they can instead watch TV. In Indonesia, doctors are now turning away patients as hospitals hit full capacity. In Lebanon, dozens were injured in anti-lockdown protests fueled by the worsening economic situation.
• Biden-Putin first call: New U.S. President Joe Biden called his Russian counterpart to discuss the New START deal to limit nuclear warheads. In a break with his predecessor, Biden did not shy away from sharing his concerns with President Vladimir Putin over the Alexei Navalny poisoning, Ukraine's sovereignty and other human rights abuses.
• Court blocks deportation freeze: A U.S. federal judge has blocked Biden's administration from implementing a 100-day pause on deportations, one of Biden's first moves upon taking office. The U.S. Senate confirms Antony Blinken as the new Secretary of State.
• French police lawsuits: Six NGOs have launched a class-action lawsuit against the French government for systematic discrimination and racial profiling by police officers.
• Florida Olympic bid: As Japan grapples a surge in COVID-19 cases, Florida's chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis, has urged the International Olympic Committee to move the Games to the U.S. state, which has been accused of downplaying COVID-19 figures in the past.
• Holocaust Remembrance Day: The French Embassy in Berlin has digitalized millions of documents as part of a memorial project that displays the names of thousands of victims of the Holocaust on the embassy's facade.
• Space tourism: Axiom Space, a Texas company, has introduced the first private space crew, which consists of three men, each to pay $55 million for a visit to the Moon.
British daily The Times dedicates its front page to the grim milestone reached by the UK, which becomes the first country in Europe to officially record more than 100,000 coronavirus deaths — and currently has the world's highest death rate per million people.
Iran in Africa: How ideology undermined economic potential
Since 1979, Iran's presence on the African continent has been part of a push for ideological expansion and anti-Americanism, to the detriment of economic and political relations, writes Sara Saïdi in French-language news magazine Jeune Afrique.
Relations between Iran and the African continent intensified under the regime of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah, who held power for nearly four decades before being overthrown in 1979. His ousting and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran marked a turning point in relations between Tehran and the African continent. From the 1980s, the new regime sought to export its Islamic revolution and to be seen as the defender of oppressed countries in the face of Western, especially American, domination.
"The Iranian strategy in Africa is more political than based on economic rationality," says Clément Therme. "The economic strategy has limited success, except in South Africa, where relations are deeper." For Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute, Iran's ideological foreign policy in Africa is a disaster. "It costs Iran money, labor and markets. This is true in Africa, but also elsewhere," he says.
Iranian diplomacy in Africa has, in fact, revealed its limitations. Iran, which has 25 embassies in Africa, must also face Saudi Arabia. The Sunni kingdom takes a dim view of the presence of the Shia power in Africa. Egypt and Morocco are also concerned about Iranian proselytism. Morocco, for example, has already severed its relations with Iran twice.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
Nigerian authorities have seized a 8,800 kg shipment of pangolin scales as well as 57 sacks of mixed endangered species such as ivory horns or lion bones — worth an estimated $2.5 million in total. Nigeria is known as a hub for traffickers, who send scales of African pangolins to Asian countries, where they are used for medicines.
Release the excess vaccines that you've ordered and hoarded.
— Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa criticized the lack of equity in the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, with accusations growing against the major pharmaceutical companies for a policy of selling to the highest bidder even if countries already have reserved sufficient supplies.