My University, more precise the Human Rights Center at the Law School of Central South University, Changsha, PRC asked me, when I left in February for some
conference visits. to report a bit on the CVC-the Corona Virus Crisis, which is actually at least equally a lesson about how crises are managed. Much had been said, is being said and will be said. Too much? Well, there is hopefully some special perspective here to be added – at least the original publication (part 1 and part 2 … to be continued) met huge interest and acclamation.
Just to be clear from the beginning: thinking biology, medicine and the like are as exact science impeccable, without errs. But this is not the topic – it only mention as some definitely competent people stated that without downplaying the dangers, they should not be exaggerated and, for Corona that as it is, there is surely something to be said about the virus being very much “holder of its own passports”.
1. My Life with the Corona Virus
During the holidays I faced some difficulty at the checkout of a supermarket – Biyu, another customer helped me …, knowledge of language definitely helps. Then, bidding farewell she said: I am so sorry that you experience the country now, the virus doesn’t allow real Spring Festival Mood. Strangely enough it seemed that she had been more worried about me missing out than her own “loss”. Every little makes a difference – I remember one Christmas day when I lived in Ireland, a power cut making it impossible to live the traditional “turkey” – more worrying than anything else. This is not to say that the Irish aren’t hospitable or less than Chinese people. But it still may point on a rather meaningful difference between the East and the West (this as any other categorisation has to be taken with care !!): There is a generally a more pragmatic orientation to be found in China – call it resignation, subordination or you also may call it freedom, of which one definition says that it is the “insight into necessity”. What I saw these days, being back in Europe had been just the opposite: first, complete ignorance, of course suggesting that there is a problem in China, increasingly reacting protective – here protective is just another word for hostile; then, second, the reaction had been more like stepping hastily into a chicken barn, exaggerating reactions instead of a calm, systematic approach.
Some examples will follow over the next time – impressions. And as valuable – and a bit entertaining – as they hopefully are, a systematic analysis, perhaps under the title of The Virologist’s Socio-Political Compass, may be valuable for developing global responsibility and rights-based approaches as crisis management.
2. Oh folks, remain realist …
Definitely, it is for us in China a kind of nightmare-situation: the threat, the insecurity, the psychological strain and also the inconvenience and thus physical strain: shops being closed, villagers deciding quarantine-ing themselves and people just accepting, staying calm and cooperating. And then …. – the German news magazine coming up with a title-page like this:
Sorry, for me it is sending a wrong message, it is simply tasteless … “when globalisation is becoming a deadly danger” …, I suppose that is more about Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, though mind: not produced there … and so many other similar incidents …
And, indeed, there is something else made in China – the other day I received a message from a former student of mine – when I had been teaching economics. We are still in touch and Isn’t him a message, just the hello and how r u and take care -part of the answer:
Not only protecting myself, also protecting people around me. Ordered nearly 1,800 face masks from Japan last week and looking forward to receive them. Going to sell them at original price with a limit number per person and donate revenue from selling them. Purchased 2kg of “hande desinfektionsgel” from Germany for my parents.
Now, I would not even be surprised if les boches claim that is “German benevolence”
Machine translation of the letter mentioned:
Hello, I thank you for this letter and the assurance of solidarity from the German side. While searching for this mail-address of the BS I also see the reference to the naturally welcome wish for respectful cooperation. Germany East not Germany and the AA cannot be everywhere and control etc. But I must confess that such a tasteless cover picture, like the one of the Spiegel, simply shakes me. The experience that I make with my life in China lets me see with my German passport such an insult with shame and anger.
Der Spiegel is not the German press and I can only hope that this is the exception to the rule of reporting. This “naughtiness” of the seal with criticism and rejection but the AA would certainly be compatible with the freedom of the press, because this is equal to the responsibility in reporting.
With kind regards
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
3. Every Little Counts – The Common Good
Finally, with 14 hours delay, I left the Empire of the Middle on the 9th of February – I use this old-fashioned reference to mark the ongoing mystification of China, but also other Asian countries: in the West there is often a strange way of …, well, call it respect for the unknown, the exotic. And as exotic as anything unknown is, a new version of “the magic” appeared to me, walking from the shuttle train to the final passport control: the “magic” of a futurist scenario:
Please, walk slowly – temperature measurement in progress
Compliance again, very likely everybody saying I do not want to be infected and I do not want to infect anybody else – sure this measurement is not the proper medical one in the strict sense …, but every little helps. Big Brother as good friend – let’s take it pragmatically. And of course, every control has different sides. This is what I mentioned earlier, filling in some questionnaire, amongst others containing the questions:
- Have you ever have had temperature?
- Did you feel exhausted recently?
I guess even every toddler did have temperature and then: in connection with the delay of the flight I had been chased across the airport for a couple of times – consider that I’m not trained olympionique, consider as well that I’m not the youngest anymore, it seems quite natural that I had been exhausted. Every little helps …, and every little needs attention, even the smallest thing. All this shows that there is always the “human factor”, leaving us with some errors of a special nature: Formal approaches are applied, assumptions are made and the best and probably the only thing we can do is moving on, accepting the four fundamental notions:
- Common sense is – not always, but often – a sound guide for our action and activities
- Though we may often feel alone – seemingly a characteristic of modern societies – we are never alone; thus, any kind of complex situations and processes needs toell be explored from different sides, not only considering what is self-evident for ourselves (think about it: you see something that is “yellow”; your friend sees the same thing but does not see it as yellow but as “in a very bright colour” – you may easily end up in some misunderstanding).
- Not least: communication is decisive – society had been characterised by various terms: society as theatre, as leisure society, court society, welfare society, and of course as industrial society, service society, class society, middle class society. It is Niklas Luhmann’s merit to have introduced the term communication society, however, he understood communication in such a way that …, ehem, there had not been any people left: communication in his understanding had been a process without subjects (if you do not understand this “autopoitic process”, you actually are right: it cannot be understood – it has a bit of swimming in a lake without getting wet). I propose it may be appropriate to speak of a court-room society, the latter understood as place where justice is negotiated by applying a specific language, one that is necessarily both, precise and disputatious, neutral and strictly goal-oriented.
This way the every little helps, combined with the every little needs attention is joined by a third pillar, namely everybody has an important role to play.
Thus, the Kantian categorical imperative –
“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”
(this is the wording from Kant’s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals from 1785, later he used slightly different formulations)
applies, but needs to be enhanced:
- Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that you action and activity is well interwoven and coordinated with the action and activities of others
- Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that the result is one that can prove validity in the future.
And the expert may justifiably feel tempted to see some Rawlsian veil of ignorance at play.
Leaving the funny aspects of obviously (and also seemingly) unreasoned questions aside, there is a further serious issue, not least in perspective of rights to be raised: we are always caught between highly standardised means, possibly applied in a mechanical way on the one hand and the need for what had been frequently called the struggle for law, that is the dispute and human empathy to elaborate a solution that is just, meaning that is appropriate to the situation. Or in more common terms, the tension between legality and justice (and those who studied law will of course remember the seminars on the different takes on “ought” and “is”).
This section may be concluded by the most crucial point, arising from what had been said so far: at the very core we are dealing with the common good, and importantly this stands at the beginning – as such it is one of the interpretations of the Marxist thinking, expressed in two frequently quoted sentences:
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past”
standing at the beginning of The Eighteenth Brumaire.
And in the Introduction to the Outline of the Critique of the Political Economy
“The human being is in the most literal sense a ζώov πoλιτιχόv [political animal], not merely a gregarious animal, but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society”
Seeing here a superiority of the social would be problematic, as such interpretation presupposes the social as “reification of its own”, arising from nowhere – like a deus ex machina. However, this common good is nevertheless of special – quasi-superior – character, as it is source and objective of acting individuals – take (a) simple issues as language (needed to speak with somebody else, something that is shared), (b) more complex issues as common sense and morals (yes, something you share) or (c) highly elaborated systems as the regulative body (or call it civil code and related legislation) of a country or the trans- and international system –and remember: crossing the street, buying a tiny commodity or making a present …. all these are legal acts. Highlighting the crucial meaning of the social – for instance in form of the common good gains at present some special relevance as in the context of CORVID19, one of the leading online gazettes on EU-affairs laments its BRIEF (Stam, Claire: Common Good; https://www.euractiv.com/section/coronavirus/news/the-brief-common-good/; 12/03/20; ) that “[t]he swiftly-spreading coronavirus forces all of us to take a reality-check and face the ugly truth. It also forces us to adapt and change our behaviour for the common good. Because this is what it is all about. This is what is at stake.” This statement – and the then following reference to “disruption” caused by the virus, is remarkable, showing the Western (under)valuation of the public good: peripheral, related to emergencies, the last resort. With some good will one classify see it as slip – an argument of bad taste brought forward by one of the many unsettled journalists. However, looking at EU policies over the years, in particular the debate of services of general interest, there cannot any doubt that there is little appreciation of the common good as general standard: everything is geared to individuals looking for their own, personal benefit.
– Doesn’t this connect nicely with the argument I brought forward, when addressing the international Human Rights conference in Changsha in December 2019, an argument that is widely discussed, often as matter of a fourth generation of human rights – here I would put it under the heading of human rights (also) as right of humanity, not (only) of individuals.