The following article is provided by Dr Gerald Cipriani, Honorary Professor to the UNESCO Chair in Comparative Studies of Spiritual Traditions, their Specific Cultures and Interreligious Dialogue.
To most, giving an opinion on a natural phenomenon amounts to semantic nonsense. But as soon as a human element enters the equation whether on suspicion about the cause of the said phenomenon or the response to its harmful nature, it does not take long to witness a plethora of opinions most of the time based on experience, ideology, emotions, or prejudgements instead of thorough and rigorous studies. For the great majority of people, the only information available beside first-hand experience is prone to give rise to coerced, personal or formatted opinions, depending on the political regime in which they find themselves – totalitarian, liberal, or conformist among others.
As I belong to this great majority, the few lines that follow about some effects of and responses to the current coronavirus pandemic are unavoidably made of such opinions based on impressions stemming from media reports, governments’ and scientists’ declarations, and personal experience. Regardless, it would be indecent not to acknowledge the privilege there is to live in an environment whereby critical opinions, even if proven unfounded from time to time, are understood to be vital ingredients for a healthy and liveable society in the making.
Beside the grotesque politicisation of attitudes and measures to adopt against the pandemic in areas of the planet, the obvious ideological liability for the initial spread of the virus in a region of the world, the blatant lack of cognitive humility of medical science and its organisations when facing the unknown, the dysfunctional collective responsibility among cultural sections of the population that could afford adopting appropriate attitudes and behaviours to contain the speed and scale of infection, the incoherence of discourses on measures to take that have oscillated between practical necessity and ideologies of borders, whether regional, national, or continent-wide; beside all these, there is one aspect that the pandemic has revealed, or rather confirmed.
A pandemic is by definition and etymologically that which pertains to all the people (from the ancient Greek πάνδημος) and as such has awakened us to an undisputable fact as old as humanity itself: we are indeed all living under the same heaven. But this time, the projected centre of heaven is no particular place on earth but the whole of humanity. From an intercultural perspective, this globalising phenomenon has exacerbated an unwelcomed universal condition in humankind begetting thus a chain of reactions against it, spanning among others cultural polarisations, civilisational individualism, systemic self-reliance, and state closures whether for ideological or mere practical reasons. Meanwhile, at no point in the history of humanity has the correlation between what unifies us and cultural specifics in their various forms been put under such a strain, signalling thus the pressing need to recover a liveable, complementary balance between those universals that make togetherness possible and particulars at the source of creative freedom and difference.
The extraordinary speed at which vaccines are being developed throughout the global community partly through collaboration between particular entities could be read as a symptom of this recovery. But this is also sending a stern message: when there is the will to channel its energies towards a balance of natures, humankind can find the means to overcome its own anticipated predicament.