Connecting Regions of Asia.

The Issues and The Ideas: Post-COVID19 Challenges

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In 1925 Harold Laski wrote in his A Grammar of Politics thus: “Ours…is an epoch in which the characteristic confusion of a transitional time is the main feature of speculation. The call is loud for a new social philosophy…” Laski’s were about the nature of the state. But we must recall for sure that the generalized challenges to society and state have always been with us. The New Economic Geographers would say that humankind had to mend with the First Nature in order to create an atmosphere of settled happiness. The Institutional Economists would say that the social norms and traditions were all human innovations to reduce the uncertainties of life.

Now we are in a historical juncture where we have to put to test our, what John Locke called, will and willingness for the cause of deciding on the future course of action Post-COVID19: “we find in ourselves a power to begin or forbear, continue or end several actions of our minds, and motions of our bodies, barely by a thought or preference of the mind ordering, or as it were commanding, the doing or not doing such or such a particular action. This power which the mind has thus to order the consideration of any idea, or the forbearing to consider it; or to prefer the motion of any part of the body to its rest, and vice versa, in any particular instance, is that which we call the WILL. The actual exercise of that power, by directing any particular action, or its forbearance, is that which we call VOLITION or WILLING.”  The challenge where we have to invariably apply our will relates to the continuation of population of humankind. John Darwin argued in his brilliant 2007 book on After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires, 1400-2000 thus: “Yet the world that ‘globalization’ is in process of remaking has largely been formed under very different conditions. For most of the period covered in this book, economic relations between different parts of the world have done little to hinder (and quite a lot to encourage) the building of empires, states and cultures with distinctive values, attitudes, institutions and ideologies. Economic interdependence, the main constraint upon cultural diversity, has been too short-lived, too quickly aborted and too blunt in its impact to reverse this trend. It is widely assumed that this long era is ending: that vernacular cultures and the nation state cannot withstand the invasive effects of the world of free movement in information, people and goods. ……The history of Eurasia suggests that, while new methods of warfare and government, new techniques of production, new cultural practices and new religious beliefs were diffused from one end of the Old World to the other (and from every direction), they failed to induce a common view of modernity or of what was to be ‘modern’. The past patterns of trade and conquest, diaspora and migration that have pushed and pulled distant regions together and shaped their cultures and politics have been exceptionally complex. Their effect has been not to homogenize the world, but to keep it diverse. By contrast, the magnetic force of the global economy has been too erratic thus far, and too unevenly felt, to impose the cooperative behaviour and cultural fusion to which theorists of free trade have often looked forward.”

 Thus the evolutionary trajectory of the world has never had a permanently dominant supreme structure. In this light and particularly the COVID19 crisis today, the trajectory of ideas relating to demography and population behaviour become both relevant and significant rather than the usual political economic articulations. William Godwin who had such a profound influence on the First Thinker on Demography, Robert Malthus, wrote in 1797 in the very first Essay of his Enquirer: Reflections On Education, Manners, And Literature emphasising happiness at both individual and collective levels rather than in political terms: “The true object of education, like that of every other moral process, is the generation of happiness. Happiness to the individual in the first place. If individuals were universally happy, the species would be happy. Man is a social being. In society the interests of individuals are interwisted with each other, and cannot be separated. Men should be taught to assist each other. The first object should be to train a man to be happy; the second to train him to be useful, that is, to be virtuous.” It was the person who was so strongly influenced by this kind of outlook started his celebrated 1798 book on An Essay on the Principle of Population thus: “THE GREAT AND UNLOOKED FOR DISCOVERIES that have taken place of late years in natural philosophy, the increasing diffusion of general knowledge from the extension of the art of printing, the ardent and unshackled spirit of inquiry that prevails throughout the lettered and even unlettered world, the new and extraordinary lights that have been thrown on political subjects which dazzle and astonish the understanding, and particularly that tremendous phenomenon in the political horizon, the French Revolution, which, like a blazing comet, seems destined either to inspire with fresh life and vigour, or to scorch up and destroy the shrinking inhabitants of the earth, have all concurred to lead many able men into the opinion that we were touching on a period big with the most important changes, changes that would in some measure be decisive of the future fate of mankind.”

It was with this understanding that Malthus reiterated the then contemporaneous preoccupation of public mind: “It has been said that the great question is now at issue, whether man shall henceforth start forwards with accelerated velocity towards illimitable, and hitherto unconceived improvement, or be condemned to a perpetual oscillation between happiness and misery, and after every effort remain still at an immeasurable distance from the wished-for goal.” This is exactly the kind of question we are face to face today with COVID19. Based on his understanding of things, Malthus gave us his famous theory that “the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.” During the last two centuries, the technological innovations have made people falsely belief that the Malthusian prediction has been nullified for good; they have assumed to themselves that “the power of the earth to produce subsistence for men” (subsistence as understood as the rising heterogeneous consumption demands in the sense of Variety is the spice of life) can be limitlessly expanded.  

This is how towards the beginning of 2019 we had one of the most appreciated books of the year arguing that population expansion has been a determinant of development performance of a place –The Human Tide: How Population Shaped the Modern World written byPaul Morland . In this book and in way different from the Malthusian fear, Morland writes: “The great improvements in material conditions, in nutrition, in housing, in health, in education, which have swept across most of the globe since the start of the nineteenth century, have clearly been economic but they have also been demographic, which is to say they have concerned not just the way people produce and consume but also the numbers of people born, their rate of survival into adulthood, the number of children they in turn have, the age at which they die and the likelihood of their moving region, country or continent.” Now from about the end of the same year we have been fighting against COVID19 wherein social distancing is a key strategy. The strategies against COVID19 are interventions to save human lives at the core. This implies that the key argument of Morland as population size as the determining factor of a region’s transformation needs a relook.   COVID19 has forced the world to shift from the emphasis on demography as a determinant of development to exploring mechanisms for saving the demography.

Thus COVID19 has emphasised that there is an imperative for a rethinking and re-articulation in at least four areas in so far as collective existence is concerned. First is the Behavioural Component. Post COVID19, all the people anywhere in the world cannot continue any longer with the production, consumption and sharing patterns as they are accustomed to today. Second is the Governance Component. All the governments so far have been used to focusing on stand-alone policies as if one action in one aspect would have nothing to do with what is happening and would impact upon in other aspects. This has been invalidated by the COVID19 crisis. Economic policies, Business policies, Social policies, Environmental policies, Domestic policies and External policies can no longer be stand-alone policies but necessarily have to be integrated policies for a shared prosperity for all; the key principle is shared prosperity. Third is the Demographic Component. The governments have so far been keenly influenced by the border (implying boundary), ethnicity (in the sense of exclusivity), attitudinal (longing to dominate over the other) and pure numbers (“For forms of government, let the fools quarrel”) in framing policies and deciding on the constituent programmes. This has to be abandoned and go for secular ethnicity perspectives. The fourth relates to the Development Component: The predominantly zero-sum methodology so far to development approaches and interventions relating to Nature, Materials and People have turned out to be very costly, almost to the point of costing our lives and livelihood. Reviewing this has to be initiated right ahead.

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