Avrum Burg:
The Potential of Omnipotence and Impotence

It’s a period of more questions than answers. Lots of perplexing paradoxes. The sudden halt of so many familiar realities reveals all that has gone unnoticed due to the extreme pace of the immediate past.

Lots of internal contradictions and hidden inconsistencies are revealed in full force. Some are threatening, some are inviting. The overarching one is about us. We recently were so powerful, invincible. We’ve seen to faraway galaxies, arrived to the most remote corners of the universe and creation, were so innovative and creative. And this is exactly where the Corona hits us. It is global, doesn’t bow in front of the powerful, indifferent to affluence and technology. We face it collectively and individually while it isolates and unites us, though differently. Here are few more oxymoron:

The state and the world
For many years we have witnessed the erosion of the traditional nation-state. Many of its duties and responsibilities have been syphoned up by international systems, global organizations, regional unions, worldwide companies and the global economy. From below it is constantly eroded by sub-state forces; National communities like the Scots and Basques, powerful cities, civil society organizations that have taken on more and more classic state domains, and many ordinary citizens who simply withdrew from any involvement in political and democratic life. Suddenly, this epidemic appears and it is precisely the old nation-state that is the central medium for combating it. Only the state has policing and enforcement powers, It still owns the shared public spaces, has the means for extensive public care, health care systems, hospitalization, research, transportation and supervision.
To the delight of many nationalists, the nation-state is back. But unfortunately, it can’t beat the plague alone. Because the epidemic knows no political boundaries, it does not notice skin colors and does not make ethnic profiling. Trump in North America and the Brits of the Brexit have sought to escape universal responsibility, but this stubborn Corona is pursuing them without mercy. This is a global epidemic that requires international policy coordination. The comeback of the nation-state is accompanied by the unbending globalization. What is the new equilibrium we desire?

Oh, Capitalism.
Only could I disregard the concerns, illnesses and worries of these days, I would sit back on my soft armchair and enjoy the scene. After years of capitalist rhetoric, a free market and tireless push for constant growth, unnecessary consumerism and the deceptive belief that all this goodness will eventually trickle down to everyone – it turns out to be just a whining phony capitalism. For years, they have been advocating privatizing and privatizations, starving the government to anorexia, letting the free marketeers to profit more. Suddenly, all this capitalism, which has benefited the few and increased the gaps from many, is worth nothing, the powerlessness of the powerful.  Collapsing in front of the first serious attack on its existence. The sweatshops of the less fortunate are closed, transport lines blocked, people have no job and no money to buy. So what do the rich capitalists do? Put their hand in their pocket? share some of their savings? Give back something to the public they have profited from? No way. They are appealing to the government! Like old and extinct socialist species. Too bad we can’t enjoy it a bit more.

It seems as if in some cases the more capitalist the economy is the  more under developed the state is. Without offending the developing countries, of course. For example: United States of America. The one of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, Facebook and Google – collapses. Mainly because it does not have a public health system. At a real test of its home front it fails big time. Evidently its extreme libertarian individualism, does not have enough resilience to hold the most basic social solidarity. The same is true for Italy. Berlusconi and his cronies eroded the achievements of the welfare state achieved there since the end of World War II. So no wonder the Corona defeated this advanced state so easily. And it is the humble and solid Denmark and Finland, the Social and Democrat almost like Bernie Sanders, which is capable of removing the restrictions before everyone else. For the same reason: it has a very healthy public health system that could be trusted. Is the corona the disease that will end the arrogant vanity of capitalism?

Don’t believe anyone
This leads us to the next embarrassment. Nowadays you cannot believe anyone. China has been hiding and still hides a fair amount of its data. The United Kingdom began with an awkward public policy; exposing the entire population to the disease, opposite to the rest of the world. But without revealing the models and data on which this policy was based. Israel is fighting Corona as if it was another round of Middle Eastern violence. Though with no up-to-date information or reliable intelligence from the battlefield. This did not prevent it from implementing measures and policies counter basic human right.
There is no data, nor transparency – but policies there are. And it turns out that in the ancient democracy of all the Brits of the British Isle – the one that, as early as 1215, made the Magna Carta the Great charter of freedoms transforming the local from subjects to citizens – decided to give up its older citizens. To sacrifice them on the altar of the folly new conservatism. Whereas China, where human and civil rights are so different than ours in Western democracies, is struggling for the life of every Chinese regardless his or her age.

Everything has changed yet the old world is still with us
Meanwhile under the masks of the New World order, the Old order continues on its own. A wild race after influence, power and prestige. China and Russia send emergency aid to poor Italy. China, where it all began, is already intensively rebranding itself as one that has managed to overcome the disease and rapidly returning back to full economic and global momentum. The regimes of some Arab states continue to hide from themselves and their subjects the true information and the full gravity of the disease, let as many die. Many religious leaders find awkward explanations for the pandemics. Because of the “lack of modesty of women”, or the Jews, Muslims, gays, and whatnot. The Israeli health minister promised the public that all will be over by Passover “since the Messiah will arrive by than”. Few people of the Old World have yet internalized among other things the need to renew their dogmas and explanations for God’s action in the world.

I wonder if it is precisely because of this human-made epidemic the world of the ‘day after’ will be much more religious, less logical and very tribal and separatist. Or precisely the opposite. In order to prevent together the next disaster.

Apropos
The Black Death (Great Bubonic Plague) of the 14th century made its way from China to Italy and killed a huge percentage of Europeans of the time. A lot of violence and grieving, labeling and accusations were born then and there. Nothing was the same after its occurrence. The landscape of church and faith, medicine and science, state and culture dramatically changed. The same might happened now. I hope this time for good only.

April 20, 2020.

Avraham (Avrum) Burg, former speaker of the Knesset and chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, is currently NYU-AD professorial lecturer in Abu Dhabi and a recurrent Visiting Fellow at the IWM.

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