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Home / Opinion / Views /  Opinion | The solidarity of the shaken as we face our own frailty

In the tragic and increasingly exacting battle that is taking place between humanity and its new enemy, Covid-19, the common suffering of human beings has paved the way for a broader solidarity of all individuals across all lands. A global march like this on a long and dark road is a new endeavour for humanity, perhaps the most significant since the fight against Nazism in the 1940s. Once again, in its struggle against the coronavirus, humanity has nothing to offer but toil, tears and temerity. Strangely, this new ordeal that has come upon humanity ignores state boundaries, political systems, religions and cultures. It is a child of globalization, which also has the power to bring an end to it. As in the case of a world war, Covid-19 has closed down borders, halted travel across the globe, wiped out trillions of dollars from stock markets, and killed thousands of persons with more deaths ahead.

The outbreak of this virus has revealed to humanity that beyond all its techno-scientific powers, the modern human being is a fragile creature. For a long time, humanity has lived with the promise of unbeatable health, even the prospect of living forever.

In order to protect human beings from uncertainties of the everyday world, modern political institutions were developed and equipped with the power thought to be needed to guarantee individual safety. But the feeling of security that allows people to live with the trust that there is a tomorrow includes intimations of the inevitable fragility of human existence.

The idea of fragile humanity recognizes an obvious aspect of our existence. Fragility represents the condition of being vulnerable and defenceless, as humanity is today against the Covid-19 pandemic.

The point is that this fragility did not occur suddenly and unexpectedly, as if it were the product of a short-term process. When we talk about the fragility of an object, we understand that it can break easily. We apply the word “fragile" to something which can easily be damaged. What this crisis reveals is a fragility inscribed in the ontological constitution of humanity. As the French poet Paul Valery, says, “We civilizations now know ourselves mortal." In other words, our civilization is fragile, because it can, by definition, end at any moment.

But the coronavirus has, at the same time, also revived a sense of empathy that was concealed for half a century by utilitarian and materialistic modes of human life around the globe. Today, it is as if great tragedies give great meaning to the lives of those who fight for a common cause, and against death.

What the coronavirus has made us discover is that we are living in what Martin Luther King Jr. called a great “world house". Though we are separated in ideas, interests and ideals, and despite the fact that we make war against each other, we cannot live apart and we share each other’s joys and sorrows. We are caught in an inescapable network of interrelationships. With this new pandemic, the inhabitants of the globe have become closer neighbours. This is, once again, a major turning point in our post-modern civilization, where the presuppositions on which our technological and capitalist society has been structured can be acutely analysed and deeply challenged. In a philosophical sense, death by Covid-19 has become “meaningless"; thousands have died around the world whose names we do not know, but what we see now is exactly what the Czech philosopher Jan Patocka called the “solidarity of the shaken". This is the thinking of those who resist great tragedies with the only thing in their hands, their own humanity.

Thus, what we are seeing now is a value shake-up, the realization of “an idea whose time has come", to use Victor Hugo’s phrase. Honestly, nothing could be more tragic for people around the world than to live in these troubled times and fail to achieve the new mental outlook that this global crisis demands.

What is so special about the coronavirus crisis is that it calls for a genuine revolution of our everyday values. This call for a global fellowship is much more meaningful and significant than the “globalization of selfishness" that the world has seen over the past two decades. Despite the medical imperative of social distancing, what the virus has fostered around the world is an overriding loyalty to humankind . Though the price to be paid is high, humanity might be on its way of curing itself of the curses of globalization, the most notorious ones being terrorism, climate change and pandemics.

Pandemics have always changed history. They hold up a mirror to civilizations, show them what they really are, and force them to change. This is what the coronavirus is doing today. It is showing us images of indifference in our societies around the world, and compelling us to think in terms of one humanity. This is an irony of fate, with the enemy of human civilization teaching us how to be civilized and humanistic.

What this tragic pandemic is also teaching humanity is that being capable of exiting one’s mental ghetto and thinking about the Otherness of the Other is neither shameful nor disgraceful. Quite the opposite, for it can reveal a new face of humanity beyond its features of arrogance and megalomania. True humanity is more than just about weeping for those who are dying of Covid-19, it is about telling one another the truth about what brought us to this condition and where we go from here.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is executive director of the Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Non-violence and Peace Studies

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