Soon after the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, it became clear that humankind is undergoing one of the biggest challenges in its history. Out of the blue, every single one of us had to adapt to the new circumstances of social distancing, protection and hygiene. As our lives change in line with the pandemic, the scope of this change, how long would it linger and how sustainable it is are some of the main questions that are on people's minds. The response to these questions, however, varies from one person to another with many holding onto the extreme thoughts of either total transformation of the world order or a complete stillness that suggests no lessons will be learned from this unique experience. According to experts, however, neither of these severe ideas present a true picture, since, usually, reality settles in gray areas, rather than black or white.
"In these types of cases, many pundits have a stance of interpreting the things the way that would benefit their own ideology," said Mehmet Şahin, an academician and political scientist, speaking to Daily Sabah.
Giving the example of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, Şahin expressed that these views do not present an objective stance since they are heavily influenced by individual ideologies.
During an interview with the Spectator, Zizek, who is known for his socialist views, showed an enthusiastic view about the after-effects of the pandemic, as he sees this as yet another opportunity for communism to flourish.
"If you add to this a possible new wave of refugees you get the perfect storm, and I think that Europe is so weakened that it will not be able to react in a unified way, and that’s what I mean when I say coronavirus gives a new chance to communism," he expressed.
"Of course, I don’t mean the old-style communism. By communism, I mean simply what the World Health Organization (WHO) is saying. We should mobilize, coordinate, and so on...like, my God, this is a dangerous situation. They’re saying this country lacks masks, respirators and so on. We should treat this as a war. Some kind of European coordination...maybe even wartime mobilization. It can be done, and it can even boost productivity. What I mean is that it is possible to keep the good sides of capitalism, but nonetheless, through a coordinated state, social effort to mobilize. Not just with coronavirus, this is needed with other ecological crises, refugees and so on," Zizek continued.
After first appearing in Wuhan, China, last December, the virus has spread to at least 180 countries and regions, according to U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. Its data shows the number of confirmed cases worldwide has surpassed almost 1.02 million, with the death toll crossing 53,000 and more than 200,000 recoveries.
While the Slovenian philosopher saw the plague as a second chance for long-dead communism, others, such as Stephen Wall, an international relations professor at Harvard University stated that the power center of the world will shift to the East from the West, nationalism will be strengthened and a less liberal world will emerge.
Too late to have a substantial change
Still, despite these firm ideas of prominent figures, according to many, the world has already gone too far to have a substantial change in its order.
"The world is being managed with a mentality that is mostly finance-centered. This mentality would adapt itself in accordance with how things evolve. There is no possibility for this mentality to change soon. Thus, there is no point in having arguments that would strain minds," said Mehmet Özkan, an academician and the head of Turkey's Maarif Foundation in the U.S.
In a thread in his Twitter account, Özkan mentioned that after every crisis, systems would adapt themselves to damage control mechanisms and yet, often fail to undergo a substantial transformation.
Then, he continued by giving examples of previous plagues and how they affected the world order. The first example he mentioned is the black death, which killed one-third of the European population in the 14th century. However, according to Özkan, the biggest impact of the plague was that people turned to religion, instead of creating a direct influence over the political system. The second example is the Spanish flu that killed 20 million to 40 million people all over the world in the early 20th century. However, in Özkan's opinion, despite killing millions, the flu did not have a serious political influence over the world since it coincided with World War I and was almost overshadowed by the war. Lastly, Özkan mentions the SARS virus that wreaked havoc in the early 2000s, which, according to him, had the biggest political influence among them all since it revealed China's "true nature" of keeping domestic matters to itself while focusing on economic development the most. As a result, thanks to SARS, e-commerce flourished all over Asia, with China benefiting the most from this situation.
All these past experiences reveal that in these types of global crises, the most corrupt or vulnerable parts of the societies come to light, usually dominating the period to come.
"It is also not reasonable to interpret the current situation as if nothing will change," Şahin underscored. "On the contrary, I believe that many things will change," he continued.
In Şahin's opinion, global communities such as the EU have suffered the most damage from these recent developments.
"(In the past, EU) was receiving many criticisms from the outside, which was not being very effective over the union. However, for the first time ever, we see that EU is being criticized from within, by countries that were hit by the pandemic hard such as Italy and Spain," he said, adding that once the biggest example of globalism, EU's future is now quite ambiguous due to these changes.
Coronavirus ends neo-liberal order
Spain and Italy have become the countries within the EU, worst-hit by the pandemic with thousands of people killed and numbers escalating every day. The EU failed to come up with a proper response to its fellow countries' troubles and, in a way, left both Italy and Spain alone in their fight while countries like Turkey – which is outside of the union – provided aid. According to many, developments in the EU, as well as the other parts of the world, showed that the entire status quo was prone to collapse and the virus has become a deathblow.
"So far, globalism and neoliberalism showed us that the nation-states are no longer the main actors of the system and all the products, finances and people can freely travel all over the globe. The nation-states must transfer their authorities to a higher institution and act in accordance with this system. They also showed that there is a global solution for every global crisis," said Hüsamettin İnaç, the chairman of Dumlupınar University's Department of Political Science and International Relations.
İnaç added that yet, today we see the exact opposite of the premises that have already been laid down.
"Now, we realized that even though we are facing a global crisis, we are unable to come up with a global response. All the nation-states had to come up with their own individual response," he said, underlining that this signals the end of neoliberalism and even the U.S. as a world leader since it was the leading power of the current system.
The U.S. has reported 240,660 cases of the coronavirus as of late Thursday night, with 5,811 deaths across the country, making it the hardest-hit country in terms of the total number of cases.
President Donald Trump, who had downplayed the pandemic's impact on the country earlier, said Tuesday that the White House is predicting that between 100,000 and 240,000 people in the U.S. will die from coronavirus.
Meanwhile, for many, the plague redefined the responsibilities of the nation-states and even enabled them to re-grasp their original duties, mainly protecting their citizens.
"There were many who were reading the globalism only through the companies as global actors, excluding the nation-states as a whole. We see that things do not work that way, I believe that we will see changes within the duties and responsibilities of the nation-states," Şahin stated.
There are also optimists who believe or would like to believe, that finally the inequalities and differences that were fueled by the capitalist global order will be overcome. These views hope that society will be regarded as a unit rather than a mass of individuals with the notion of sharing at the center of the economy while the market will no longer be the dominating force over everything. Yet, İnaç sees these views as "unlikely" as the economic order is not something that can be altered that easily.
"In order for capitalism to be removed, the ways of people who created that capitalism should be altered as well, However, this plague has not shown us any glimpses of such a change yet," the academician highlighted.
"I believe that we will return to the times that we are used to in a short while," he emphasized.
Acknowledging that some features of capitalism, such as its main actors may change, İnaç said that still, we are far from bringing socialism back.
"I believe that this crisis has become the only one since the Great Depression that somehow managed to shut down all the economic system," said Şahin, in contrast to İnaç.
Referring to the high unemployment rates and disadvantaged groups worldwide, but especially in the U.S., Şahin stated that not everyone is a part of this current economic system.
"There are 30 million people in the U.S. that do not have access to health services. This, I believe, will lead to a rebellion there. People may want to rip off the edges of capitalism as we know it," he said, implying that a reformed version of the capitalist order may be at the corner.
Is it possible for fascism to flourish?
Another topic that the coronavirus has brought to the agenda is the domestic ideological changes that would also have an influence over the world order. Many argue that already signaling a tendency toward the far-right for a while now, Europe, and eventually the world, will lean toward more fascist views in the post-virus period as many measures such as closing the borders suggest.
Due to the virus, in some countries such as Germany, Italy, Austria and Belgium, telecommunications companies are now allowed to track people's movement while in Israel, the national security agency has access to the phones of infected citizens. South Korea sent messages to the people, informing them about infected individuals and the places they went while China detects the citizens without masks with a drone.
Despite all these concerning developments, according to Şahin, it is not right to interpret these moves by referring to the past experiences of the post World War I era of Italy, Germany and Japan.
"The economic crisis was not the only reason why these states turned to fascism. There was also the effect of the Versailles Treaty. If the heads of the states would manage to set a proper communication with the others, I believe that we will lean toward a much more reasonable future, rather than fascism," he said.
According to Şahin, there is an understanding that whenever something bad happens, then there is a rise in fascism.
"However," he explained, "we have the past experiences of these cases. So, people need to be shown that fascism is not the solution by explaining the past."
The academician also highlighted that explaining why fascism is bad is not enough since valuable changes would also be needed in the current system to convince people.
"There is no such understanding stating that fascism is bad that is why we are going to continue to exploit you. It does not make sense," he stated.
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