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Three major issues for the future of human beings

by Gabriele Nissim

The plaque dedicated to Wallace Broecker at the Garden of the Righteous of Milan

The plaque dedicated to Wallace Broecker at the Garden of the Righteous of Milan

In Italy and all over Europe the Resistance and the post-war period were times of great decisions. There are unique circumstances in history where each of us has the opportunity to be the creator not only of our own destiny, but of that of millions of human beings. It is a magical moment when each individual realizes how his or her own existence can determine a new course for society as a whole and for the entire planet. It is a scenario where each individual does not feel to be just a tiny element searching alone for the path of his or her own survival, but rather feels that he or she is part of something that goes beyond his or her own individuality. One feels part of currents in history that can push the world in a new direction. One feels part of a greater whole than himself or herself, not to drown and lose his or her specificity and independence, but because his or her personal destiny depends on the future of human beings.

It happened to partisans, to the resistant, to those who reconstructed the world after the war.

They were called to choose sides. At that time, they had the opportunity to defeat Nazism, to build democracies, not to replace fascist dictatorships with new despotic regimes, to imagine a European Community that would be the stronghold to overcome nationalism, to look to the United Nations as an essential framework for international collaboration, the defence of human rights and the prevention of genocides.

The future of the world was in their hands. They could decide the new home in which they could rebuild the future of their existence.

It was therefore worth, at that unrepeatable moment in history, to be virtuous human beings, to use one’s personal energies, to risk one’s life for a new world born from the rubble of the Second World War.

Those who made the right decision at that time had the opportunity to put an end to the genocide of Jews, Roma and Sinti, to rebuild peace and to stop hatred, to rekindle those ideals of love, brotherhood and equality that Charlie Chaplin had launched in his message to the world in his magnificent film, The Great Dictator.

We would have never expected this, but today the pandemic puts individuals in the entire world before decisions that can change the destiny of the entire planet.

As in the Resistance and the post-war period, a situation is repeated where individual destiny is tied to that of all human beings.

Individuals can become the creators of a new beginning that will impact everyone’s life.

Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari explained this with great intelligence when he said that exiting the pandemic and constructing the future is not something deterministic that depends on God or luck, it exclusively depends on our collective decisions. Only human beings can work miracles on this planet, wrote Hans Jonas last century when he recalled that Auschwitz was born from a decision made by human beings and that it was good individuals giving their lives that revived a new world.

Well, as Harari observed, even today human beings can still be the creators of collective actions that can change history.

There are three crucial decisions to be made.
1) Choose whether to face this crisis with nationalistic isolation where each country is in competition with the other, or build a path of international solidarity that does not leave behind Africa, India and Latin America and the dispossessed in refugee camps. The pandemic cannot be won in a country just by imagining insurmountable walls between one nation and another, also because the virus does not stop at borders. Nobody says it out loud, but some people believe that there are “unnecessary” human beings who can be left to their destiny in the poorest areas of the world. Some representatives of the extreme right would like social distancing and self-protection measures to become a mechanism of indifference towards the poorest and weakest. We have seen this even in advanced societies where some - including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson blatantly, but others surreptitiously and with ambiguous statements - felt that the loss was inevitable of the elderly, who were the most vulnerable to the virus, when, on the other hand, longer life expectancy is one of the great achievements of modernity.

2) Prevent new authoritarian temptations from arising in the world from this emergency and resume the struggle for democracy in every part of the planet.

We realize not only that autocratic and dictatorial regimes, starting with China, have alerted people late on the epidemic and have created opportunities to further restrict democratic rights, but also that democracy on the planet still exists in a few states and Europe is an island that must not only be safeguarded, it must become an example for the whole world. We cannot export democracy by force, as George Bush thought in the Middle East with the invasion of Iraq, but international institutions and public opinion cannot remain silent before those leaders, such as Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey and those in as many as 84 countries - as The Economist has pointed out - who have passed exceptional laws not only to fight against the virus, but to strengthen their authoritarian power.

It may seem paradoxical, but precisely because the fight against the pandemic all around the world requires the involvement of individuals in their lives and cannot depend merely on top orders and technological applications, the enlargement of democracy and human rights is pivotal to winning this battle.

This is why, if we can read the course of events with political intelligence and listen to the voices of those who try to resist dictators everywhere, we will be able to revive the ideals of democracy and pluralism universally as we did after the defeat of Nazism and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The mobilization against the virus could therefore become a new Renaissance of democracy throughout the world and break down many walls that seem insurmountable today in theocratic states, in illiberal democracies, in Putin’s authoritarian Russia and in Chinese communism from which everything started.

3) Listen to the voice of scientists who not only alerted us on the danger of pandemics, but who are still unheard on the warning they gave us about climate change. Today we must no longer accept that politics is in the hands of incompetent and populist individuals, because if we do not rely on the knowledge that scientific research has developed in all fields, we will not be able to save the planet. We need an alliance between science and politics to deal with new emergencies, as perhaps it never happened before in history.

What will happen, for example, with the melting of Antarctic glaciers and rising sea levels? We will only be able to prevent and govern these phenomena if we are led by a new political elite having adequate scientific education. It is no longer possible for the US President to suggest injecting disinfectants against the virus or to continue denying climate change. In the last few days, Trump’s image is not only a sign of the fall of a moral leadership of the United States towards the world, but a representation of the crisis of competence in politics. The idea was accepted that to govern it was sufficient to be showmen capable of entertaining people on television, of gathering support on social networks with catchphrases, of speaking to people’s bellies proposing contempt for political opponents and miraculous recipes. Nobody wondered whether politicians had studied, knew history, science, architecture, philosophy, had economic, scientific and administrative skills or not. It was sufficient for them to gather applause in television debates or likes on social networks for us to consider them worthy to receive our vote and to govern. In the last few days, however, one feels a sort of annoyance when seeing how many incompetent individuals rule in politics. When a doctor or an epidemiologist speaks on television, one feels reassured even if he or she does not offer us the certainty of treatment; when some politicians then take the floor, one has the feeling that there is nothing in power. In the United States, Trump’s star has started to blur before the scientific expertise of virologist Antony Fauci, who, confident about his knowledge, has never remained silent in the face of the American President’s incompetence.

Around these great issues, indicated with brilliant clarity of mind by Harari, Gariwo wants to contribute to raising awareness in its Gardens of the Righteous on the best individuals who today have taken on the task of making crucial decisions of our time.

For human beings to make the best decisions in emergency situations, it takes great examples of long-sighted individuals to show us the way forward.

It happened during the fight for liberation from Nazism, where great political figures, intellectuals, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, courageous individuals were able to take the reins of the world.

This is why we will strive to raise awareness on examples of individuals who are fighting for international collaboration, for the defense of democracy against all forms of barbarity and authoritarian control of people, to give back to knowledge and science a guiding and steering role.

We believe, as great philosophers such as Baruch Spinoza and Soren Kierkegaard sensed, in the pivotal role not only of ideas, but of consistent examples of individuals in flesh and bones who create the magic of emulation.

We must tell the story of Righteous individuals of our time because they help us think, choose, rediscover the taste of the future and of hope.

I therefore imagine in a large ideal Garden doctors like the Chinese Li Wenliang, who paid with disease and death his warning on Coronavirus, censored in China as it happened in Chernobyl after the reactor default in the nuclear power plant; individuals who can give a new thrust to the European Community and the United Nations; scientists who, like Wallace Broecker, are at the forefront of warnings against climate change; intellectuals and politicians engaged in democratic battles from the Middle East to China, to Russia and Latin America.

Translated by Valentina Gianoli

Gabriele Nissim, Gariwo Chairman

Analysis by Gabriele Nissim, Gariwo Chairman

28 April 2020

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