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Pandemics and Progress

The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to push the world’s social, political, and economic structures to the breaking point, and overcoming the crisis will require resilience. Real success will lie in rediscovering and institutionalizing the true value of compassion, respect, and generosity in the weeks and months ahead.

AMMAN – Humanity has survived many pandemics throughout history. In many cases, we learned lessons that helped to spur subsequent progress. For example, the kingdoms and states of Central and Western Europe abolished serfdom once it became clear in the aftermath of devastating pestilence that dependency and servitude jeopardized leaders’ hold on power.

Similarly, the Spanish Flu pandemic that killed more than 50 million people in 1918-19 highlighted the vulnerability of entire countries in the absence of widespread access to basic health care. That episode spurred governments to start building the public-health systems that improved life so much in the twentieth century.

More often than not, humanity has banded together in the face of all kinds of threats. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic and its many ramifications threaten to push our social, political, and economic structures to the breaking point. If the past is prologue, then our survival and welfare demand that we change.