Blog

Sixth Podcast on COVID-19 and Our Lives

Today’s podcast is a conversation with Jean Rognetta, a colleague from France.

Jean is the Editor at Large of Forbes France and directs EuropeEntrepreneur. He is the Founder and President of the primary French think tank on the financing of independent businesses, PMEfinance and its Europe Entrepreneurs clubs. He is a former General Delegate of CroissancePlus, an entrepreneurs group in Paris. Jean started his career in journalism in 1997 with Vivendi as the Editor of the professional letters, Jour. From 2000 to 2016, he wrote for Les Echos and Capital Finance, respectively France’s leading financial daily and private equity newsletter. An early observer and analyst of the digital revolution, he has written or co-authored several books, most recently La République des Réseaux (Fayard).

Jean comments on the advantages of one country learning immediately from the successes and failures of other countries in their efforts to contain the new coronavirus. He sees the virus having reached its peak in Italy, about to reach its peak in France and then in the U.K. a week or so after that.

From his perspective, Jean sees the Anglo-Saxon cultures of the U.K. and the U.S. more aligned with social Darwinism and so more tolerant of inequality of impacts than European cultures.

I hope you will have a moment to watch and consider his reflections.

Michael Wright proposed that, after this crisis, we will need to shape the internet and its socializing to provide corridors of intellectual and emotional safety for people to encourage the flourishing of trust.

Alan Fine’s Generous Book Offer

Our colleague Alan Fine is making digital copies of his book, A Familiar Place: The Path Forward, available for no cost until March 26th.

Alan has written me saying he is doing this “to help people get perspective during this critical time and hopefully to start an important broader dialogue on life meaning, leadership, constructive societal engagement and positive political, economic and social change.”

Alan teaches at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.

His book can be found on Amazon here.

Fifth Podcast on COVID-19 and Our Lives

On today’s podcast, we hosted imam Asad Zaman, Director of the Minnesota Chapter of the Muslim American Society and imam of the Masjid At-Taqwa mosque in St. Paul, Minnesota. Imam Asad the other year told me about the covenants the Prophet Muhammad made with Christian communities to respect and protect them. As a result, we’re undertaking a study project to learn more about these covenants and their application in our time.

Our discussion today stood its ground on the conclusion that finding possibilities for betterment in adversity is stimulated by our faith conviction about who we are in relationship with others.

Reflections from Prof. Abdullah al-Ahsan

It is Sunday in Minnesota. Our fellow, Professor Abdullah al-Ahsan, who has tutored me in Qur’anic guidance the past 14 years, has just sent me these reflections putting the current global “affliction” in perspective:

“The current situation is definitely very grave and demands serious thinking. Will it change the course of history?

While contemplating, I encountered this article.

Is the current situation going to be like that of the Black Death in the 14th century? Are we encountering a sort of wrath of God, as some scriptures suggest happened in history?

Last October, I visited the biblical city Ephesus: nobody lives in the ancient city center any more, but some historians and archaeologists are now trying to “reconstruct” the city. It was a flourishing city of three hundred thousand people that existed almost from the 11th century BCE to 7th century CE. Several earthquakes in the 6th and 7th centuries CE destroyed the city completely.

As a student of comparative civilizations, I have been trying to make sense of the Ephesus legacy. I don’t think I have succeeded yet in understanding a pattern of history.

Coronavirus poses a new challenge to me: is it a divine punishment for human civilization today?

Was the Mongol devastation which was followed by Black Death in the 13th century a divine punishment? I have received many messages, mostly from Muslim colleagues, raising questions: the Uighur is asking “how does it feel living under fear?” The Kashmiri is asking “how does it feel living under lock-down?” The Palestinian is asking “how does it feel to live under travel restrictions?” The Syrian is asking “how does it feel being kicked out of your homeland?” The Rohingya has lost his voice completely.

We talk about creating trust. How can we create the trust we need globally when we don’t treat all human beings as human?

I don’t know whether I should raise these questions or not: they are so political!

There is, of course, a silver lining for every crisis. We know in history the 14th century was followed by the humanist movement. Will this coronavirus lead to any such understanding for our future?

We are already witnessing many positive developments: families are together, parents are spending time with children and we are eating healthy, homemade food. A letter from Wuhan that has gone viral says “Air is getting fresher, the haze is gone, the sky is getting bluer, the sun is getting brighter, family lives are getting warmer, harmonized, cordial, hearts have become more and more calm.” CNN has reported that fish have become visible in clearer water in canals in Venice.

Jose Luis, in an earlier message, has called for “common good.” Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has appealed for “working together.” Are world leaders ready for this?

This, of course, is not the end of the world, but my understanding of history and scriptures suggest that this is a warning for humanity. Could we appeal to world leaders, intellectuals and common people for collective thinking? Could we create an initiative for some soul-searching?”

Abdullah al-Ahsan
Professor of Political Science and International Relations
Istanbul Sehir University

CRT Podcast Update

First, I want to thank those of you who have watched our podcasts and those who have gotten back to me with helpful thoughts.

Secondly, we are reaching out more broadly for guidance and comments on the global confrontation with the coronavirus.

I note that a virus acts without discrimination based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity or age. From its perspective, it is value neutral, a perfect nihilism or, perhaps, an absolute inclusivity.

In this sense, the coronavirus unites all humanity in a common cause – to stop its transmission.

Earlier today, our podcast benefited from Michael Sheldrick, one of the founders of Global Citizen and now its Chief Policy and Government Relations Officer.

Over the last 10 years, Global Citizen has inspired program contributions of $48 billion dollars for poverty alleviation, with positive impacts on 800 million persons. We discussed how social capital in the form of a social movement – young people and artists – can enhance human capital to change financial outcomes for the world. Mobilization of citizens is what it is taking to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

On Monday, we have asked imam Asad Zaman to join us and on Tuesday, Jean Rognetta from Paris, who is the Editor of Forbes, France.

Reflections From Spain in a Time of Epidemic

I have reached out to our fellows asking for their thoughts and advice on the larger moral and practical aspects of the current unexpected and intrusive circumstances associated with the emergence and spread of the coronavirus.

From Spain, both Domingo Sugranyes Bickel and Professor Jose-Luis Fernandez-Fernandez have just sent me very thoughtful comments which I would like to share with you. Please see their contributions to all of us below.


Observations by Domingo Sugranyes Bickel
Former President, Fondazione Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice
Rome, Italy

In this country, as in many others, political polarization seemed like a blind alley, a cul-de-sac! An outside enemy – and, fortunately, not a human enemy – is changing the game. That could be positive.

The sheer complexity of practical problems posed by confinement opens the way for a wide variety of subjects in the media. Suddenly, attention is focused on an immense variety of things which normally work without nobody paying attention, in public administration, in business, in all kinds of services. This again is a positive effect: it reconciles us with complexity and compels us to avoid ideological simplification.

We used to complain about young people being like isolated, socially impoverished beings with their smart phone as their only centre of attention. We have grandchildren in Spain, Italy and Belgium, they are all actively involved now in virtual working groups for schoolwork or play. It is just a new channel for rich group initiatives.

I feel alarmed, not only for many lonely elderly people, but also for all those modern slaves – think about human trafficking, prostitution – which means thousands of people probably abandoned by their ‘customers’ and their bosses, due to confinement…

A Decalogue Concerning the Global Consequences of SARS-COV-2
Quick Thoughts from José-Luis Fernández-Fernández
Iberdrola Chair in Economics and Business Ethics, Universidad Pontificia Comillas
Madrid, Spain

This unprecedented situation brings some pointed realities to my mind:

We live in a really small, interconnected world.

Reality has kicked out from under us definitively a kind of fantasy of omnipotence that seems linked to our technological potency at the beginning of the 21st Century.

The axiological order of values appears again crystal clear: primum vivere, deinde philosophari…, i.e., first of all, live; afterwards, the rest follows: things and worries, business, economics, leisure… even philosophizing.

We should act all together in search of the common good, putting special emphasis in helping those who are in less advantaged situations.

We should try and take advantage of this unusual, dramatic situation. This “exceptionality” can serve us indeed as a general rehearsal for possible future scenarios, where we will confront compulsory struggle, for instance, against climate change or another type of global threat.

The destiny of humankind is something holistic: there can be no salvation in isolation.

We need to learn how to collaborate among races, peoples, religions and cultures; going much more beyond the economic order, to entering the real path towards fraternity and humanitarianism.

Reality always surprises us, going even further beyond our wildest fantasies, because tomorrow has not been written. We have to construct it with theoretical effort and goodwill, guided from practical wisdom.

We must recognize our freedom as the anthropological dimension that, together with conscience and will, converts us into moral subjects, able to act either according to the highest ethical standards or without any moral values.

Education in ethics and values should be compulsory, not only in formal training, but also in all sorts of cultural contexts that could be amplified by social networks.

The spiritual dimension of human life must be reinforced and cultivated within every religion, from respect for every humanitarianism, cultural tradition and context through good examples and best practices.

A Different Point of View on COVID-19 for Your Consideration

What to say? Is the glass half full or half empty? Are we, as a global community, getting control, so to speak, of COVID-19 or not? What is the scope of the danger? What precautionary measures are most advisable?

I am reminded of Aristotle’s advice – find the golden mean between extremes and keep to it. His notion of the ethical life was to find balance: not too much, not too little; be wary, but not scared; be prudent, neither reckless nor defeatist.

When the unusual and the disconcerting and worrisome springs forth unexpectedly for no good reason, we are entitled to some degree of anxiety and even fear. But too much fear can quickly and easily push us into losing our balance.

Finding a mean, a middle way, is also a teaching of Buddhism. It is also the advice given in the Confucian text, The Doctrine of the Mean. And wisdom found in Qur’an holds that we should keep the mizan or balance.

In our principles for government, we set a standard of using discourse ethics to decide on what should be done for the common good. Our principle is:

“Public power, however allocated by constitutions, referendums or laws, shall rest its legitimacy in processes of communication and discourse among autonomous moral agents who constitute the community to be served by the government. Free and open discourse, embracing independent media, shall not be curtailed except to protect legitimate expectations of personal privacy, sustain the confidentiality needed for the proper separation of powers or for the most dire of reasons relating to national security.”

The goal of discourse ethics, really, is to guide us to a mean, a balance, a prudent course of action under the circumstances.

But discourse ethics demands reasoned consideration of all the facts. Discourse should be open to considering alternatives to conventional wisdom and imposed narratives and normative expectations.

Recently, I was sent a comment on the coronavirus written by Michael Fumento titled “Panic Never Helped Any Pandemic and Won’t Start Now.” He is little known, apparently, but has tracked contagious outbreaks for many years. His take on the growth curve of the virus differs from much that I am reading in the news.

I would be very interested in your thoughts and feedback.