President of the Scientific Council of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization
We speak of the COVID-19 pandemic as a 'systemic crisis', we debate its impact across multiple fields, yet at the same time we forget to take into account its impact on the most important actors within: people themselves.
It is essential that we remain aware of the fact that debates on the pandemic must not focus exclusively on states or other principal actors. They must, above all, be about people. We often speak of the collapse of entire economic sectors, but we fail to consider that their workers are often the first victims of these crashes, since, in a very practical sense, they embody these industries themselves.
It was very interesting to follow the evolution of the spirit of conformism manifested by billions of people worldwide, who chose to remain safe and respect the rule of the states of emergency instituted globally for one single purpose: our survival.
The stress caused by the veritable "house arrest" of billions of individuals will have deep repercussions, and will affect not only our generation but also the younger generations to follow. Any effective psychotherapy must start from an understanding of the phenomenon under review. The paralyzing effect of the pandemic on our economic and social lives was exacerbated by the generalization of fear. The unemployed, the homeless and the CEOs of multinational enterprises alike, presidents and prime-ministers were all equally affected. Let us not forget that such generalized fears constituted the basis for all totalitarian regimes throughout history.
When the physicians working in intensive care units, the infectious disease specialists, pneumologists and virologists on the front line of the struggle against COVID-19 will have won their battle, only then will it be time for psychiatrists to step up and do their duty.
At the end of the terrible and calamitous Second World War, its effects could be felt not only on the economy, but also upon human souls. Following the tragedy of the Titanic one hundred years ago, mankind convened on one universal outcry for immediate assistance: "S.O.S.", "Save Our Souls".
Sixty years ago, the World Academy of Art and Science was created by great scientists who well understood both the potential problems arising from the use of science and technology to achieve less than noble goals and the human drama experienced by people the world over, in both the victorious and defeated countries of World War II. Perhaps this was the exact reason why they named it the "Academy of Art and Science", seeing as art and literature can better heal human souls.
There is a remarkable quote from "The Portrait of Dorian Grey": "to heal your soul through the senses, and your senses through one's soul". Oscar Wilde then adds: "The soul is a terrible reality. It can be bought and sold. It can be poisoned, or perfected". I would like to add that the soul can also be bought back!
We need to remind those who are about to lose hope that a nobler aim in life can free the human being from the claws of fear. For this reason, during the pandemic, debate has coalesced around the issue of human rights and the moral values that guide the lives of each of us in turn.
This is why I hold the conviction that the present represents the most opportune moment to act. And act we must, immediately. It is high time that the academic milieu took a stand and fully engaged in discussing what can be done to overcome this systemic crisis in the years to come, for the benefit of the generations to follow.