I recently rediscovered an idea espoused by two of my favorite historical figures — Leo Tolstoy and Pierre Teilhard de Chardan — both odd, eccentric, and antagonist, but brilliant in their conviction and impartial pursuit of the truth, a simple and powerful truth summarized as follows: Everything that unites leads to creation, and everything that divides leads to dispute and chaos. It is from this dialectic that I understand the value of diversity as a double-edged sword, and it helps me understand the world that awaits us after COVID-19.
Diversity is double-edged in its power: in any of its guises it makes individuality disappear. Either uniting differences for a single purpose, that by virtue of being common belongs to no one but benefits everyone. Or by fighting to defend the homogeneity of increasingly smaller units, so small that they end up disappearing into the chaos of splintering factions.
It is from this dialectic that I can best address some of the topics presented to me when it was proposed I write this editorial: globalization, the collaborative economy, and the role of women.
There are many who believe that globalization in its current guise has been a mistake, and looking for salvation, they retreat into nationalism. Clearly this is short-sighted, because the planet’s problems (climate change, migration, resource shortages, etc.) clearly require a common solution or no one will be able to save us, given that neither the oceans nor the air we breath understands borders.
The solution sways towards unity and calls for a restructuring of existing global institutions, from a diversity that unites. This means the creation of new international bodies — on equal terms, since only through equality can we be different — that can create the foundations that regulate the management of the human race and the planet. And this: considering the current state of world leadership, it is better that we build it on solid, well-managed structures, free from the cult of personality or earth-saving idols.
If we don’t manage to create these common structures, the existing global diversity that has not yet allowed itself to be dominated by any hegemon will continue along the unstoppable process of fragmentation. Its units will become increasingly smaller as they intensely seek greater homogeneity among their members, ending up with the most absolute in individuality, and sooner or later disappearing into chaos.
Sami AlSuwailem, my professor of Islamic economy always began his classes pointing out that the economy necessarily has two legs, like the two wings of a bird. An altruistic wing, ruled by the law of solidarity and collaboration, and a second wing, ruled by the law of profitability and supply and demand.
If there is something this crisis has taught us, it’s that there is a basic part of our economy that cannot be ruled by profitability criteria. Child care and care for the elderly, healthcare and basic support: these have no business adhering to the same parameters that are used for factory production. Both are necessary, but they need different parameters.
In my post-COVID-19 dreams, collaboration and efficiency will comprise an economy that will respond to the basic needs of the individual: food, health, education, transportation, and care. It could be that these basic needs would be freely provided by the state, or it could be that those of us in society with jobs would voluntarily contribute to a universal basic income program, or as the economy shifts from collaborative to communal, it no longer seeks the profit of a few at the cost of many, but rather prioritizes the common good of society. And if these basic needs are met collaboratively and altruistically from the community, and for the common good of all and not for the individual, the other part of the economy — profitability — will be free to truly develop creative products and services, new technologies and devices, that make society more fun and full, and whose production is based only on the criteria of demand and profitability.
But my post-COVID-19 nightmare is also a possibility: an every-man-for-himself scenario, the further enrichment of a very few, and a dangerous decline towards the struggle between increasingly fragmented individual interests, ending in chaos.
The Role of Women in the Post-COVID-19 Reconstruction
Women in history have always played an important role in the reconstruction of dying societies; the real question is whether they have been visible or not. So, to rephrase the question: will the women who play a fundamental role in the post-COVID-19 reconstruction be more visible? Once again, I have to turn to the previously mentioned dialectic.
In my post-COVID-19 dream, we will understand the complementary nature of masculine and feminine qualities in moving forward, and we will be able to include empathy and collaboration alongside rigor and control as criteria for making progress. And men and women will understand that only by embracing the equality of their differences will they be able to CREATE a new society and new mentality.
But in my post-COVID-19 nightmare, the identity clash over what gender is better suited for what will unite with the clash over what culture is better for what and with what ideology is better for what, until ultimately the partisan infighting will become so fragmented that only chaos will remain.
So, in conclusion, what are the three major changes we will have to live with in the post-COVID-19 world?
- We will have to learn to live with more uncertainty and fear.
- Regaining trust in our leaders and institutions will require a lot of heavy-lifting. They will have to work on it.
- In my view, most importantly we will learn from the movement: from moving apart in order to protect ourselves so we can be, so that in turn we can move together in order to collaborate and create.
Diversity has two movements, one of separation that feeds the ability to be fully individual, and then, out of this wealth of individuality, the joining with other individuals — where all are equal — in order to create something that is from all and for all. This second unifying movement exemplifies the purpose of my struggle advocating for diversity over many long years, and I am confident that we will be able to accomplish it.