We are living through the age of Coronavirus, a time when we seek and yearn for a grave new world to be transformed into a brave new world. Hurricanes, earthquakes and pandemics are natural crises. Though much over-used today, the word ‘crisis’ in the English language originally had a 15th. century specialist medical meaning. It referred to the turning point in a disease, the change which indicates recovery or death. A crisis only becomes a disaster when it is mismanaged – like a doctor using the wrong treatment on a disease. Or international leaders applying misleading prescriptive policies abetted by deliberate disinformation and malicious mismanagement of media campaigns.
As humanity faces its greatest challenge in generations, we are the sum of our choices, and the decisions of others. The fault lines and fissures of globalisation have been severely exposed. The Corona pandemic has frozen and interrupted a world, whose dynamics will be altered profoundly -hopefully, with renewed values and increased solidarity.
The pandemic has placed humanity at the nexus of, not just an economic, social and political conundrum, but also at a philosophical and cultural crossroads. The fragility of our lives, economies and our societies have been underscored by the virus; by its longevity, reach and virulence. In lockdown, our behavioural norms are being challenged. Some of these changes will be temporary, but some may become ingrained in our way of life as we seek to overcome the new threats of our age.
A lot of life’s certainties and assumptions have been eroded, and it may be time now to press the reset button on erstwhile truths and convictions. Coronavirus has imbued an awareness of how little we know, how little we really control in our lives, and how easy it is to lose sight of what really is important. The staggering speed with which the virus has spread makes it impossible for any rational person not to understand the reality of human interdependence. This experience teaches us that, as humans, we can only survive in interdependence. The borders and divisions we have constructed to mark out our own territories – what we own, what we defend – are exposed, even as we seek to repair the problems by closing those very borders,
The ordinary and mundane have become difficult and dangerous. The football pitch, the cinema, the church the office, public transport – the spaces in which we mark and measure out our lives – are now potential danger areas.
Even after the virus is mitigated, its aftershocks and the new constraints it imposes will define what we do, how we work, how we travel and interact, how we socialise for the next decade. As we all embark on a restoration project, to pick up again the pieces scattered by the virus, we need to assess what we have learned, what to take with us, what to leave behind. This will be crucial as we review our work practices, principles and desired outcomes. There is currently a momentous shift from competition to cooperation, from individualism to group endeavour and from privatised to public and state means of working together. This is not a bad thing.
The long, reflective, meditative period, caused by the physical incarcerations, may be soon over, and it will be time to harvest the wealth of ideas and thoughts. The magazine offers a wonderful treasure chest, a clearing house, for the exchange and hopeful enactment of some of those ideas. Your experiences of the effects of the virus on your work will help bring that work into sharper focus, underlining its possibilities and potentialities. These shared experiences and thoughts/ideas need wider amplification via the magazine’s expansive outreach. It, in turn, can harvest and reflect these ideas, and can offer an engine room for the driving principles that should govern your work: Interdependence, Rationalisation, Relevance.
There is now a need to strengthen social, political and economic structures, to build more robust and resilient structures. It is a time to erect scaffolds, build partnerships, extend networks, devise media and communication strategies, help to shape dialogue, prepare for a new landscape in the wake of the first wave of Coronavirus, and a possible second wave. We will need actions that people and businesses can undertake, and that requires coordination between organisations, governments and individuals – and especially actions that cross borders.
Your work will become more important than ever as unemployment levels rise to even more dangerous levels, and the vulnerable sectors grow more vulnerable. The immediate economic victims of the virus will be people who already work in precarious employment.
Because of the dispersed nature of your work, with inputs from diverse corners of Europe, it is difficult for you to sometimes to see the bigger picture, to appreciate the vast scope – geographically and sectorally – of your work, to understand the importance of your mosaic in the overall mural, the sheer weight and importance of your collective efforts. It may seem disaggregated through remote input, but put together it is a growing force that will become even more important in the months and years ahead. The magazine will help project and profile your work to a wide community, but that needs regular input from you.
A few final words for the endangered species of our media and academic friends, many of whom work with you on your projects.
Disinformation is also a dangerous and nefarious virus that needs the antidote provided by good journalism. Journalists, and good journalism, have been regarded as essential workers throughout the pandemic; they strive to bear witness, hold truth to power and separate fact from fiction. Their adversaries can be found in the highest echelons of government and news corporations who try to deflect the rising public awareness of the need for a better and more transparent kind of governance into paranoia, hatred and nationalist authoritarianism.
You can help drown out disinformation with the use of verified and trusted information sources; through the promotion of media and information literacy in schools and organisations; through the creation of rapid response media mechanisms with your partners.
Universities could face an immediate and semi-permanent crisis, not just of financial liability, but also of identity. If everything is managed remotely, online, universities will lose their soul and identity where they see themselves as being about place, relationships and communal experiences. Now, more than ever, we can see the need for more academic interdependence, for joint endeavours with other institutions and organisations.
Your members form all the constituent parts of a consortium to take on these challenges in a much-changed world. Your work adds up to the accumulative inputs and efforts of the public and private sectors, of academic and media interests, of civil society organisations. It will soon be time to move from reflection, to renewal, to reaction and relevance.
Our Irish Youth Employment Expert
Tom Mc Grath