The Irish Times view on the post-coronavirus future: Glimpses of a better world
Things we were told could never happen – a single public healthcare system, a ban on rent increases – have materialised in days
A quiet O’Connell Bridge in Dublin this week. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
In one sense, a global crisis on the scale of the current coronavirus pandemic never ends. The virus itself will be brought under control, albeit at great human and economic cost. Treatments will be developed, social distancing and testing will thwart its rapid spread, and eventually a vaccine will be widely available. But just as the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008 left a deep imprint on social and economic life, the world after Covid-19 will be changed in profound ways.
Those earlier crises left personal devastation in their wake, but they also shattered the hubristic illusion of a world that would submit to our control. Today, once again, but in a palpably more frightening way, we see that a world that just two months ago seemed to contain endless possibilities is far more fragile than we ever allowed. That insight will inevitably shape our view of what emerges from the present trauma.
At the most prosaic level, the pandemic will, at least for a time, alter the way we interact, travel, spend, socialise, manage our health or take care of family members. It could hasten moves towards e-learning and transform attitudes towards remote working. Companies will seek to diversify their supply chains, and the symbolic centre of global power could shift further eastwards, towards those rising Asian states that have so far performed best in the fight against the virus.
It will also change our politics. Nationalist-populists will claim the pandemic vindicates their critique of globalisation, whereas in fact what it shows is the importance of international collaboration, the value of experts and the need to put serious, thoughtful, responsible people in high office. It will underline the necessity and the potential of collective action in the battle against another existential threat: global warming.
Hard as it is to think it at this dark moment, the crisis affords us glimpses of a better world. Things we were told could not happen – a single public healthcare system, a ban on rent increases – materialised within days. It turns out that buying things is not the key to a good life. A modern world that can feel cold and impersonal, we were reminded this week, is full of good, generous people who will look out for one another when times are hard.
People who were so often under-valued – nurses, transport workers, retail staff – are now, quite rightly, our designated essential workers, applauded from the doorsteps for their care and their self-sacrifice. And while technology can help us get through difficult times, it is a poor substitute for that deep yearning for belonging, for kinship and company.
Perhaps that’s the legacy that those of us who live through and survive this pandemic will retain: a recognition, as individuals and as a community, of what we value most in this world.