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In Defense of Self-Determination and Political Will

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Defense of what he calls a ‘neo-Jacobin’ conception of democracy and political will is increasingly urgent today, argues Professor Peter Hallward. A Canadian political philosopher whose published work includes a sophisticated and morally enlightening analysis of the postcolonial oppression in Haiti since the US invasion in 1915 and a despicable neoliberal assault on Haiti’s economy, Hallward’s conviction and intellectual vigour is hard to ignore even by those who persistently deny the American betrayal of democracy.

In a recent talk on ‘the will of the people’ he gave at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, Hallward argued that the idea of democratic political will, understood as an ‘emancipatory practice of collective self-determination’, must be brought to the forefront of our political and moral consciousness, especially in a contemporary context marked by ‘ever more brazen exercise of unilateral financial or military power’ as well as ‘the ever more ‘automatic’ or involuntary nature of accelerating social and technological change’ notably systemic and globalising ‘reforms’ that are coordinated only by the blind, compulsive forces of commodification and the market’. As he reminds us, we only need to think about ‘rescue’ packages dictated to supposedly sovereign governments by the bankers in and after 2008, or the wars of aggression waged against Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan to get the picture.

Hallward’s lecture starts with a sharp critique of the various ways that a voluntarist conception of popular empowerment has been rejected or dismissed across the modern European philosophical tradition. In Hallward’s words:

‘In the philosophical circles I’m familiar with, voluntarism remains little more than a term of abuse, and an impressively versatile one at that: depending on the context, it can evoke fascism, idealism, obscurantism, vitalism, infantile leftism, petty bourgeois narcissism, neocon aggression, folk-psychological delusion…In a European context, of all the faculties or capacities of that human subject who was displaced from the centre of post-Sartrean concerns, none was more firmly proscribed than its conscious volition. Both structuralist and then post-structuralist thinkers, by and large, relegated volition and intention to the merely ‘psychological’ domain of deluded, imaginary or humanist-ideological miscognition. In particular, Rousseau’s notion of a general will, with its unsettling invitation to ‘denature human nature’ and its threat to ‘force people to be free’,[1] has long figured as the prototype of a fascist Volkswille at worst, or as fictional if not utopian escapism at best.’

To illustrate the point, Hallward briefly evokes a few recent examples, from a list that could be easily expanded:

‘Nietzsche’s whole project presumes that ‘there is no such thing as will’ in the usual (voluntary, deliberate, purposeful…) sense of the word.[2] Heidegger, over the course of his own lectures on Nietzsche, soon comes to condemn the will as a force of subjective domination and nihilist closure, before urging his readers ‘willingly to renounce willing.’[3] Arendt finds in the affirmation of a popular political will (‘the most dangerous of modern concepts and misconceptions’) the temptation that turns modern revolutionaries into tyrants.[4] For Adorno, rational will is an aspect of that enlightened pursuit of mastery and control which has left the earth ‘radiant with triumphant calamity.’ After Nietzsche, Deleuze privileges transformative sequences that require the suspension, shattering or paralysis of voluntary action. After Heidegger, Derrida associates the will with self-presence and self-coincidence, and strives to open up a self-questioning space in which ‘freedom is no longer determined as power, mastery, or force, or even as a faculty, as a possibility of “I can” [je peux]’.[5] After these and several other philosophers, Agamben summarises much recent European thinking on political will when he effectively equates it with fascism pure and simple. Tiqqun and some of the currently fashionable theorists of ‘communisation’ now follow Agamben’s example, as they explore various forms of a merely ‘destituent’ power.’[6]

The aversion to a voluntarist conception of political action, Hallward suggests, ‘includes even some of those who, against the grain of their times, have insisted on the primacy of self-determination and self-emancipation. Sartre and Badiou, for instance, still tend ‘to do so in ways that devalue political will per se, and along with it the whole ‘psychological’ domain of motives, intentions and purposes.’[7] It’s telling, for instance, that

‘like Agamben and Žižek, when Badiou looks to the Christian tradition for a point of anticipation he turns not to Matthew (with his prescriptions of how to act in the world: spurn the rich, affirm the poor, ‘sell all thou hast’…) but to Paul (with his contempt for the weakness of human will and his valorisation of the abrupt and infinite transcendence of grace). As for the two other great post-Maoist philosophers of Badiou’s generation, Jacques Rancière and Guy Lardreau, they too have only managed to remain faithful to the ideals of equality and popular revolt in terms that dilute their contemporary political purchase.’

So where do we go from here? What might an alternative conception of ‘popular empowerment’ and ‘free will’ promise? As a starting point, Hallward argues, we need to dissociate the idea of ‘free will’ from a mere whim, wish or desire, and affirm it as ‘a concrete capacity to realise one’s own consciously chosen end or purpose, free from constraint, coercion, or submission to another’s will’.

Crucially, he suggests, if we care about the value of a participatory and deliberative democracy grounded in the assertion of the people’s will, we should take as our foundation the philosophical perspective that originates mainly with Rousseau and his Jacobin followers, ‘and then continues via different deflections through Kant, Fichte, Hegel and Marx, before arriving at a tacit synthesis in the theory and practice of Lenin, Gramsci, Mao and Che’.

Hallward proposes four main dimensions of practice that might lend a political will the means it needs to act as a form of genuine self-determination, in keeping with his general association of will and capacity:

‘1. The first and most basic capacity of any collective will is, by definition, a capacity for association and assembly, an ability and a readiness to gather together as a group with some sort of common interest or purpose.

2. A second capacity implied by the idea of political will involves informed or ‘educated’ deliberation and critique. Every modern revolutionary mobilisation has been anticipated and accompanied by an explosion in the available means of communication, from the cafés and pamphlets of the Palais Royal in the 1780s to the blogs and online communities that helped sustain the 2011 Arab Spring and anti-austerity movements. Voluntary action (as opposed to unconscious, instinctive or habitual reflexes) presumes awareness or ‘enlightenment’ by definition, and it’s no accident that the question of consciousness, and the education of consciousness, has been a central and divisive issue of emancipatory politics since Rousseau’s Emile and Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

3. An ability to lend an organised and coherent shape to the informed and critical collective it assembles. This is a capacity for deliberate orientation or direction, i.e. a capacity for discipline, leadership, planning, and decision. These are the concrete powers or ‘virtues’ that, for Rousseau and the Jacobins, invest the people as an actually sovereign, law-giving power.

4. A capacity to determine one’s own ends remains indeterminate if it lacks the means of achieving them, and so the fourth point I want to emphasise, in closing, overlaps with a cliché that echoes across the voluntarist political tradition. ‘Quiconque accorde la fin ne peut refuser les moyens‘ (Rousseau); ‘whoever aims at the end cannot reject the means’ (Trotsky); ‘whoever genuinely wills an end must also will the means’ (Gramsci).[8] If what distinguishes will from wish is its potential to realise its end and to achieve its goal, then this necessarily involves those further capacities required to overcome the obstacles or resistance that might obstruct this achievement. […] What distinguished Robespierre and Marat from most of their contemporaries during the first years of the French Revolution, for instance, is that they knew that the course of the revolution would depend entirely on the capacity of the people to formulate and impose their collective will as sovereign command, and to oblige their former rulers to respect it.’[9]

At this point, Hallward reminds us aptly of the case of Haiti:

‘The victor of Haiti’s long struggle for emancipation, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, was eventually driven to accept a similar logic to that of Robespierre, and to take the severe steps that would ‘forever assure the empire of liberty in the country of our birth’, by depriving the colonial powers of ‘any hope of re-enslaving us.’[10] When Haiti’s Cuban neighbours won their own war of national liberation, in 1959, Che recognised that ‘the basis, the essence of guerrilla struggle’ lies in the fact that ‘each guerrilla fighter is ready to die not just to defend an ideal but to make that ideal a reality.’[11] From Danton to Che, through Engels and then Lenin, one and the same principle animates the difficult ‘art of insurrection’, the principle of courage and lucid perseverance: ‘de l’audace, de l’audace, encore de l’audace!’’[12]

Hallward knows that recent geopolitical and ‘technological developments have rendered old notions of armed struggle tactically obsolete, of course’, and that ‘today’s oligarchs have much more to gain than to lose by deflecting political conflict onto militarised terrain. Rarely has a democratising threat been contained as ruthlessly and effectively as in Syria, Libya and Egypt, in the wake of 2011’s Arab Spring.’ One of the many challenges that confronts our generation is then ‘how best to continue with the demilitarisation of our means of popular empowerment without abandoning the end of victory itself, and without simply reducing the sphere of struggle to one of more or less futile ‘protest’ or ‘resistance.’

Finally, Hallward concludes:

‘To affirm the practice of political will as a practice of autonomous self-determination, then, is also to affirm the capacities that alone enable such practice to become actual or determinant: a capacity for association and combination, for informed deliberation and critique, for organisation and leadership, and for imposition or realisation, no matter how daunting the obstacles that might stand in our way.’

Peter Hallward teaches at Kingston University’s Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, and is best known for his work on Alain Badiou and Gilles Deleuze. He has also published works on post-colonialism and contemporary Haiti.

 


[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract 2:7; 1:7.

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, ed. Walter Kaufmann, Vintage, New York, 1968, §488, cf. §666; cf. Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals I §13, in Kaufmann ed., Basic Writings of Nietzsche, Modern Library, New York, 2000, p. 481; Twilight of the Idols, trans. R.J. Hollingdale, Penguin, London, 1968, p. 53.

[3] Martin Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking, Harper & Row, New York, 1969, p. 59; cf. Bret Davis, Heidegger and the Will: On the Way to Gelassenheit, Chicago, Northwestern University Press, 2007.

[4] Hannah Arendt, On Revolution, Penguin, London, 1990, p. 225; cf. pp. 156-157, 291n.24.

[5] Derrida, Rogues [2002], Stanford University Press, 2003, p. 40.

[6] Cf. Agamben, ‘From the State of Control to a Praxis of Destituent Power’, Athens, 16 November 2013.

[7] Cf. Hallward, ‘The Will of the People’, Radical Philosophy 155 (May 2009), pp. 17-29.

[8] Rousseau, Discours sur l’économie politique, p. 263; Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism [1921], Verso ed., p. 25; Gramsci, ‘Workers’ Democracy’ [1919] Pre-Prison Writings, p. 99.

[9]Reflecting on the revolution of 1789, Blanqui recognises how the privileged classes resisted it every step of the way, and sought every opportunity to reverse it. ‘The scaffold alone demonstrated to them the legitimacy of the Revolution; before then, they had treated it as nothing more than a mutiny of school children […, but] they recognised, respectfully, the sovereignty of the axe’ (Auguste Blanqui, Manuscripts [Bibliothèque Nationale], vol. NAF9581, p. 167).

[10] Dessalines, Declaration of Independence, 1 Jan 2014, cited in Berthony Dupont, ‘Revolution vs. Counter-Revolution’, Haiti Liberté 7:51 (2 July 2014); cf. C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint l’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, Random House, 1963, p. 357.

[11] Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare, p. 20tm.

[12] Danton, speech in the National Assembly, 2 September 1792, cited in Engels, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany [1852], ch. 17, and in Lenin, ‘Advice of an Onlooker’ (8 October 1917), Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 26, 1972, pp. 149f.

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Classroom crisis: Avert a ‘generational catastrophe’

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Teachers and students wear face masks and maintain physical distance at a school in Cambodia. © UNICEF/Chansereypich Seng

The world is at risk of suffering “a generational catastrophe” as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the education of students globally, the UN chief said on Thursday. 

In a video message to the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Global Education Meeting (GEM), Secretary-General António Guterres reminded delegates that the pandemic had had a “disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable and marginalized children and youth”.

“The progress we have made, especially for girls and young women, is under threat”, he said. “We now need to support the learning recovery in low and middle income countries – and to factor education into every stimulus package”.

Tackling the situation

To successfully avert the crisis, Mr. Guterres upheld the importance of recognizing education as “a common global good”, with teachers, safe schools, digital technologies and those at greatest risk, in need of far greater investment. 

“Financing and political will are critical”, he stressed. 

‘Vital linkages’ of education

Deputy UN chief Amina Mohammed observed that the COVID-19 pandemic had clearly highlighted “the vital linkages between education, nutrition, gender equality, health and social protection”.

She noted education systems had managed to undergo “rapid transformation” and pointed to the work of Governments in minimizing the educational impact on students, the flexibility and creativity of teachers and how caregivers have taken on “frontline roles” to support children’s education.

“Learners persevered and adapted to new realities”, continued Ms. Mohammed, as UN agencies have worked together with external partners, including through the Global Education Coalition, to deploy support and guidance to Governments.

However, these efforts have not been enough.

Since the pandemic hit, at least one-third of the world’s students have been deprived of any form of learning; close to half a billion pupils are still affected by school closures; and the most marginalized, including at least 11 million girls, are at high risk of never returning to school, according to the deputy UN chief.

Putting words into actions

Leading up to the meeting, UNESCO undertook a series of consultations for a draft GEM Declaration, which was informed, among other things, by the UN Secretary-General’s Policy Brief and the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of education.

Central to transforming words into action, Ms. Mohammed highlighted the priority areas of financing, inclusion, teachers, safe school reopening, connectivity and coordination. 

“Over the coming year, political leaders in national and local governments, donor agencies and financial institutions must ensure that the resolve to support education is backed up with resources”, she asserted. 

She also called for innovation, attesting that going back to “normality” was neither possible nor desirable as it would mean ignoring the “profound changes” in technology and labour markets across the world.

“And it would mean accepting the unacceptable fact that even before COVID-19, some 250 million children were out of school and more than half of primary school age children worldwide lacked basic reading skills”, she stated.

Finally, the UN official underscored that “effective multilateral collaboration” and “greater solidarity with the most vulnerable countries” were needed to coordinate education among actors. 

“Implementation of this Declaration, therefore, requires a reimagining of education; a dramatic push to train millions of teachers…scaling up of partnerships to connect every school, teacher and learner to the internet; and…equipping young people with the skills they need to thrive in a complex and rapidly changing world”, spelled out the Deputy Secretary-General.

Fourth Global Goal

Turning to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, Ms. Mohammed called education the “docking station” for the SDGs, from achieving gender equality to learning about human rights and acquiring new skills for a digital green economy, to developing tools for boosting tolerance and peace efforts.

“Delivering SDG 4 is a great responsibility on us all — led by the education community”, she concluded.

Other voices

UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay paid tribute to Samuel Paty, the teacher who was decapitated close to his school near Paris, last week, after showing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad to his pupils, “and to all the teachers in the world who take risks to educate our children”. 

Meanwhile, Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, a co-sponsor of the event, said that “as countries start to reopen in the era of COVID-19, education must come first”. 

And Baroness Sugg, the United Kingdom’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Development, another co-sponsor, said “we know just how critically important it is to place education at the heart of our global COVID response”. 

From Ghana, the third co-sponsor, Education Minister Matthew Opoku Prempeh flagged on behalf of President Nana Akufo-Addo that the digital divide in developing have left many children “deprived” of online teaching and learning tools. 

In her remarks, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie emphasized that the biggest problem in this education crisis is not a lack of awareness or ideas, but instead a lack of will, saying “we know what should be done and we know the consequences if we do not act”.

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Women ‘far from having an equal voice to men’- UN Study

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Women in Pakistan learn computing skills © World Bank/Visual News Associate

The COVID-19 pandemic is “interrupting efforts” to achieve gender equality and threatening to “reverse hard-won gains” over the past decades, a senior UN official said on Tuesday.

Introducing the 2020 edition of The World’s Women: Trends and Statistics, Liu Zhenmin, chief of the UN’s economic and social affairs department (DESA), said that over the last two decades, “attitudes of discrimination are slowly changing” and women’s lives have improved with regard to education, early marriage, childbearing and maternal mortality, all while progress has stagnated in other areas.

“Women are far from having an equal voice to men”, spelled out the DESA chief. “And, in every region of the world, women are still subjected to various forms of violence and harmful practices”. 

Beijing still pending 

Overall, progress continues to fall far short of what Member States committed themselves to, at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women.

“Twenty-five years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, progress towards equal power and equal rights for women remains elusive”, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres
“No country has achieved gender equality”.

To effectively measure progress in that regard, reliable, timely and disaggregated, data are critically needed and closing data gaps requires regular collection and use of gender statistics. 

Pushing a boulder uphill

Mr. Liu pointed out that while the coronavirus pandemic is having “devastating social and economic impacts” across the world, women are fighting “on the front lines…in healthcare settings, in home care, in the family and in the public sphere”.

With less internet access, particularly in developing regions, women also face difficulties maintaining valuable personal connections and carrying on day-to-day activities during lockdowns. 

“Many may also have been trapped in unsafe environments…and at risk of experiencing intimate partner violence”, Mr. Liu stated.

Moreover, he pointed out that women face reduced access to sexual and reproductive health services; and need more time to care for the elderly, sick and children, including home-based education; adding that they are also at higher risk of infection than men in the workplace.

Glass ceiling intact

In terms of power and decision making, World’s Women 2020 revealed that last year, women held only 28 per cent of managerial positions globally – almost the same proportion as in 1995.

And only 18 per cent of enterprises surveyed had a female Chief Executive Officer in 2020. 

Among Fortune 500 corporate rankings, only 7.4 per cent, or 37 CEOs, were women.

In political life, while women’s representation in parliaments worldwide has more than doubled globally, it has yet to cross the 25 per cent barrier of seats and although representation among cabinet ministers has quadrupled over the last 25 years, it remains at 22 per cent, well below parity.

Call to action

Mr. Liu called on all countries to “accelerate efforts” in empowering women and girls, towards improving data gaps in covering key gender topics. 

“Timeliness and comparability of data over time and across countries, need to be improved, and data disaggregation and dissemination by age, sex, location and other key variables, need to become a priority in order to fully measure and address intersecting inequalities, respond to crises, and ensure gender equality by 2030”, he upheld. 

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Of Here and Now: Pandemic and Society in 2020

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Photo by E. Dos Santos-Duisenberg : Labirinto de David, Búzios, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

After a century, the world population faced a new pandemic that fast spread globally, affecting individuals both physically and mentally. Covid-19 started in late 2019 in Asia, spreading so fast that despite the global connectivity and highly sophisticated information technology and communication systems, the interconnected society of the 21st century was incapable to fast react in order to avoid contagion and prevent the worst. Gradually, the pandemic is making a tour around the globe contaminating citizens even in rural communities from all continents. Worldwide, there have been 32 million confirmed cases with over 1 million deaths during the first 9 months of this year[1].

From this universal pandemic we learned that the interdependent globalized world of 2020 is connected but not synchronized – or as earlier in crisis, prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic well-noted ‘world on autopilot’[2]. All scientific, technological and digital knowledge accumulated over centuries remains inept to protect our civilization from an invisible virus that, ironically, can be eliminated with just soap and water. Obviously, the magnitude and the economic, social and cultural impact of this pandemic took humanity by surprise.

Society was already undergoing a deep process of transformation on all fronts. Debates were focused on the fragility of democracy, climate change and sustainability, inequality and inclusion, gender and race, social media and fake news, virtual payments and crypto currencies, artificial intelligence and blockchain. Science, knowledge and technology were advancing at a fast rate in all fieldsincluding genetics, neuroscience and biotechnology. Nevertheless, health-care was not a top priority for public investments or national budgets. Yet, with the eruption of the pandemic, priorities had to be immediately revisited.  A human-centred and inclusive approach became imperative in every corner of the planet. Incontestably, the 2020s is bringing irreversible disruptions.

Lockdown measures and social isolation deprived individuals of free movements, restricting social gatherings and citizen’s mobility. The home-office dismantled solid organizational structures of daily work conviviality. Closure of schools prevented children from accessing formal in-person education, creating a childcare crisis for working parents.  Crowded metropolis became empty urban centres, no shopping, no restaurants and no city life. Cultural festivities and spaces such as theatres, cinemas, and museums had their activities suspended leaving artists, cultural and creative professionals as well as street-vendors out of jobs. Parks and sportive centres became inactive and international tourism ceased.

Conversely, family life became the heart of social order. Parents that were extremely busy with their jobshad to juggle between work and the education of their children. People became less egocentric and started showing more empathy with the needed ones. Solidarity has been manifested in donations and collective assistance by civil society. Companies engaged with social responsibility.  Artists, cultural and creative workers were defied to work even harder at home to find new niches in the virtual domain. The confined society had to rediscover its ethical values, principles and priorities.

Free-time and leisure at present

Paradoxically, this shift in human behaviour brought us back to a theory of economics that emerged a century ago (Ruskin, 1900) “There is no wealth but life”. In this new-old context, free-time, leisure, well-being and culture are closely associated. Usually, we use our free-time to carry out activities that are not directly related to work, duties or domestic occupations. May be free-time is an illusion because only in exceptional occasions our time is completely free. Leisure, however, is a subjective concept which varies depending on the society which we belong. It is connected with our participation in cultural life, reflecting the values and characteristics of a nation. Thus, it can be considered a human right according to the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and in particular the International Convention on the Economic, Social and Cultural rights (1967).

Despite some divergent definitions of leisure there is convergence around three distinctions: (i) leisure as time; (ii) leisure as activity; and (iii) leisure as a state of mind. Firstly, it is defined as the constructive use of available time. Leisure as a variety of activities includes the practice of sports or actions related to intellectual and human development like reading, painting, gardening etc. and those can be leisure for ones and work for others. Understanding leisure as a state of mind is complex since it depends on individual perceptions about concepts such as freedom, motivation, competency etc. Certain skills can be considered leisure depending on the degree of satisfaction, emotion or happiness it causes. Yet, the most important is the possibility of free will.

Time available for leisure also varies according to cultural, social and even climate considerations. The notion of time can be different in Africa, Asia, Latin America or Europe. Usually people who live in areas of hot climate enjoy outdoor activities and sports while Nordic people whose habitat is in cold weather prefer indoors socialization and hobbies like playing chess, classic music etc. Social leisure embraces communitarian happenings such as going to the beach, practicing sports in a club etc. Behavioural studies indicate the benefits of social leisure for the well-being of individuals, self-esteem and cultural identity[3].

Moments of leisure are essential in all phases of our life. During childhood and adolescence most of our time is devoted to study and sports while at adulthood our time is mostly consumed with work and family. Indeed, it is at senior age that retired people generally have extra free-time to enjoy cultural events, leisure and tourism.  Globally people are living longer and a newage structure is taking shape: the young senior (65-74 years), the middle senior (75-84 years) and the older senior as from 85 years old. According to the United Nations,[4] in 2018 for the first time in history, persons aged 65 years or over outnumbered children under age five. This partially explains the vast number of people in the group of risk requiring quarantine protection throughout the pandemic period.

Well-being and spirituality in pandemic times

During the pandemic, reflections about well-being and spirituality gained space in our minds. It is undeniable that the constraints brought about by lock-down measures and social distancing, offered us more free-time but very limited leisure options. We gained additional time to be closer to loved ones and to do things we like most at home. Enjoying family life, including eating and even cooking together became a shared pleasure and a new leisure style. Individuals had to optimize the quality of their temporarily sedentary lives.  

Global pandemics affect our collective mental health. Given the prevailing health and economic insecurity, the focus of our attention has been on well-being, strengthening friendships, expanding social network, practicing solidarity, improving self-esteem as well as reflecting on spirituality and religion. Suddenly the exuberant society of 2020 is afraid of the unknown virus and its long-term harmful consequences on day-to-day life. Well-being and happiness became the essence of achievable goals.

People are emotionally fragile in this moment of anxiety. Individuals are suffering losses that will persist long after the pandemic will be over.  Some feel stressed or depressed while others react by searching for relief in exercising, relaxation, meditation, yoga or mindfulness training. Individuals are finding new ways to overcome solitude and boost mental resilience. Current philosophical thinking (Harari, 2018) is reminding us that homo sapiens have bodies but technology is distancing us from our bodies[5].

Inspirational talks in likeminded groups have been helpful for reconnecting people dealing with an uncertain future. Social engagement and advocacy for health causes are used for promoting social change. Thus, besides upgrading healthcare systems and putting in place special measures for accelerating economic and cultural recovery, targeted governmental support will be needed to improve mental well-being and raise the overall level of satisfaction and happiness of citizens in the post-crisis.

Culture and e-learning nowadays

In a short period of time, many went from an exciting social and cultural lifestyle to a simple life. People had to assume the role of protagonists of their actions. Due to open-air limitations, free-time activities had to be less physically-intensive (no bike, tennis, jogging etc.), and more creative-oriented such as designing, playing music, writing. Much time has also been spent watching TV series, surfing the internet, viewing live music concerts, video-gaming, attending video-conferences as well as socializing in virtual chats. Equally, there are growing concerns about the ethics of consumer technology and internet addiction “time well spent” (Tristan, 2015)[6].

 A recent study[7] carried out in the UK to track digital cultural consumption during the pandemic, indicates that the median time spent daily watching TV are 4 hours, while listening to music, watching films and playing video games each day are 3 hours respectively. Understanding human behaviour, in particular youth habits can help to indicate new cultural trends and consolidate social cohesion in post-pandemic times. Moreover, policy-makers could consider engaging cultural institutions and employing artists and creatives to help facilitate a collective healing process and kick-start recovery.

It is widely recognized that the arts, culture and creative sectors were hit hard by the pandemic. Whist digital cultural and creative products for home consumption were in high demand, others tangible creative goods like arts, crafts, fashion and design products sharply contracted. Many artists and creatives had no option than to experiment on work in digital spaces, since they had to go global from home.

Despite the fact that 4.5 billion people (60% the global population) use internet[8], the availability of affordable broadband access is a pre-condition to use and benefit from the opportunities provided by digital tools. This applies to both producers and consumers of cultural and creative digital content. Currently, videos account for 80-90% of global digital data circulation, but at the same time Latin America, the Middle East and Africa together represent only around 10% of world data traffic[9]. This evidence points to digital asymmetries that are being aggravated. Creativity only is not enough to transform ideas into marketable creative goods or services if digital tools and infrastructure will not be available.

The pandemic also had a strong impact on education and learning.  Re-thinking education was already a topic on the agenda of many countries in order to respond to the realities of the jobs market in the 2020s.  Besides the need to adapt methodology and pedagogical practices, many believe it is necessary to bring an interdisciplinary and applied approach to curricula with focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)[10], preferably also integrating arts (STEAM). In any case, the education system has been forced to quickly adjust to remote learning. Globally over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom in 186 countries[11]. In Latin America schools are closed and around 154 million children between the ages of 5 and 18 are at home instead of in class[12]. Furthermore, access to school-related inputs is distributed in an unbalanced manner; wealthier students have access to internet and home-schooling while the poorer have not. Young people are losing months of learning and this will have long-lasting effects. The loss for human capital is enormous.

On the positive side, continuous e-learning became a trend and a necessity.  Innovation and digital adaption gave rise to a wide-range of on-line courses. Millions of learners are upgrading their knowledge and skills in different domains through distance learning, whether through language and music apps, video conferences or software learning.  Some are free others have to be paid for, but what is absolutely transformative is that access to knowledge became more democratic.  Independently of age or field of interest, learners from different parts of the world can have access to prestigious universities or practical training.  E-learning, where teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms already existed, but demand has sharply increased during pandemic and this might be a point of no return.

Over these critical 9 months, there are growing signs that the 2020s will face a new set of challenges and life will not be back as usual. The future will be very different when compared to the recent past.  Hope and fear are likely to co-exist for a certain time. There are new values, new lifestyles, new social behaviour, new consumption standards, and new ways of working and studying.  The pandemic has imposed a deep ethical and moral re-assessment on society. This turning point is leading to a deep socio-economic renovation and hopefully to a more inclusive and sustainable society.


[1]https://covid19.who.int/

[2]https://www.diplomatic-press.net/ueber-uns/geschichte.html

[3]E. Dos Santos-Duisenberg (2013) – Tempo livre, lazer e economia criativa, Revista Inteligência Empresarial (37), Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazilhttp://www.epapers.com.br/produtos.asp?codigo_produto=2455

[4]https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/world-population-prospects-2019-highlights.html

[5]https://www.ynharari.com/book/21-lessons-book/

[6]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Center_for_Humane_Technology

[7]https://pec.ac.uk/policy-briefings/digital-culture-consumer-panel

[8]https://internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

[9]https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=2466

[10]https://www.livescience.com/43296-what-is-stem-education.html

[11]https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-education-global-covid19-online-digital-learning/

[12]https://blogs.iadb.org/ideas-matter/en/pandemic-and-inequality-how-much-human-capital-is-lost-when-schools-close/

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