Throughout the earth’s existence, cataclysmic events have shaped the future. We are now living through a momentous time of turbulent change and we have pressing issues; Covid-19, wars, population displacement, the rise of populism, the media, AI, economic uncertainty and environmental problems such as climate change and the loss of habitats and species.
The tragedy of the present pandemic echoes the hard lessons learned from the many similar ecological disturbances including Black Death, ‘”Spanish flu”, HIV/AIDs and Ebola. Thankfully, most people value organisations such as the WHO and the NHS, established after the devastation of WW2, and recognise the need to protect and invest in these precious institutions. We have learned that the health of our planet and people is paramount for future sustainability.
Alarmingly, the symbols and ideologies of populist movements echo the nightmare of totalitarian tyrannies and draconian practices. Populists can spew out a toxic mix of hero-worship, ultra-nationalism, xenophobia, white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, disability discrimination, climate change denial, COVID-19 denial, devaluing knowledge and suppressing dissent.
Critical analysis and public acknowledgement of the difficult lessons from our troubled past is crucial to foster social cohesion, equality, social justice and a broadly shared future. The internet empowers people with unprecedented access to knowledge with which to challenge the barrage of misinformation. Throughout the pandemic, the web, despite some of its fundamental flaws, has been pivotal for public debate and human expression, while maintaining relationships, jobs and online arts, which are so important for mental and emotional well-being.
The world will not bounce back but it can recover. The third industrial revolution is here so change is inevitable. The massive challenge for the leaders and trailblazers in government, social science, industry, tech, medicine, economics, history, media and the arts, is to seek socially responsible creative solutions for our interconnected world so that the lessons of the past are not ignored.