There were 23 people who attended our August 20th round table on our reflections regarding the pandemic, convened through Zoom.
Remarkably, a common theme emerged from the comments, articulated by participants from different countries, but all pointing in the same direction. That theme was loss – not of money, but of something more important – trust and confidence and the need for virtue to fill that social emptiness.
Individuals have lost confidence in elites and those in authority have lost confidence in themselves.
One participant noted that the black swan event was not the virus, but the collapse of leadership across our elites – political, religious, business and educational. Not even science has provided reassurance. Expertise, the justification of privilege for all modern rational/legal institutions, is falling short in obtaining the trust of individuals.
What is needed now, globally, therefore, is a new culture which can legitimate trust in ourselves, trust in our institutions and self-confidence of our leaders in the efficacy of their own virtue.
That culture can’t be bought. It has to evolve from our hearts. Financial investments and charity, government funding of expenditure through the creation of more fiat currency liquidity cannot create a spiritual good, but what we need must come from the spirit.
The pandemic has laid bare our values – the differential impacts on the poor, the elderly, SMEs, the instinct for self-protection, fears and the recriminations arising from them.
We need to re-establish moral authority to give people reasons to be resilient and live in solidarity with others. But how to do this? A flow down from the “top” is out of the question. It is the “top” which has been exposed as lacking in moral and emotional substance. A bottom-up process is needed where values and vision are made available to individuals and they, in turn, then act charismatically to rally resolve and goodwill.
We need, it was suggested, solidarity, individual acceptance of responsibility and social closeness, not social distancing.
We need a new controlling myth; manners too, ethical norms for individuals vis-à-vis others lifting up acceptance of reciprocal duties. Culture exists in relationships, so to build a new culture, we must engage with those around us, not just stand aloof from institutions and their authority figures. As one participant said, subjects of power structures must become citizens of vital communities.
The world is open to follow new outbursts of leadership, but in such conditions, history has shown that not every flowering of “leadership” leads to good. When culture is threadbare and society is fragmented, it’s not always the “better angels” of our natures which rise up from the ashes of disappointment to direct our fears and passions.