The post-Coronavirus World. What’s next?
From the rise of under-the-skin surveillance to the collapse of liberal democracy
Humankind is unequivocally encountering perhaps the most significant global health crisis of our generation, the Corona-virus pandemic. Looking forward to the future, it is precisely the present decisions a lot of world leaders made that would probably determine the direction human beings are heading to in the next few decades. Eventually, the storm will pass, but we will undeniably live in a very different world.
This pivotal moment has raised one crucial question,
What will the world be like once the coronavirus pandemic is over?
To answer this question, we must clearly understand the characterization of our current political system, as well as the different kinds of governments that exist across the globe.
Firstly, the citizens will face a tough choice to choose from — between their privacy and security. What do I mean by this? Citizens need to abide by the specific guidelines that help cease the pandemic from developing further. The government can monitor individuals and punish those who break the rules by announcing a ‘temporary’ emergency decree or so-called lockdown. We can already see this happening across the globe, ranging from countries like the UK to Singapore and Thailand. However, what distinguishes this form of decrees from other kinds of emergencies is the capability of the governments to employ technology, which makes it possible to monitor everyone at all times. They can now deploy novel under-the-skin surveillance systems in the battle against the virus. The Chinese government exemplifies this well. By making use of thousands of millions of face-recognizing cameras and forcing people to check and report their body temperature and medical condition regularly, the Chinese government can quickly identify the suspected cases as well as those who have come into contact with the patients.
Many might argue that this type of surveillance — where the governments use various technologies to manipulate and monitor individuals — has already existed since decades ago. Nevertheless, it is crucial to understand that this current pandemic might universalize such usage, which can further cause citizens’ ignorance of their privacy getting compromised. For instance, if the government demands its citizens to wear a necklace that can monitor your temperature, track your blood pressure, and alert you when it detects any anomalies inside your body, citizens would agree to wear it as they would be assured that their health securities issues would be taken care of. However, they might neglect the fact that the data collected by such devices could be sent over to the government to analyze further not only their body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, but also many more biochemical phenomena inside their bodies. The downside of this is explicit. As Dr. Yuval Noah Harari has put forth in one of his articles for the Financial Times, he writes:
“if corporations and governments start harvesting our biometric data en masse, they can get to know us far better than we know ourselves, and they can then not just predict our feelings but also manipulate our feelings and sell us anything they want — be it a product or a politician.”
Some might also make a case that such surveillance would go away as the pandemic is over. However, I believe that a plethora of short-term emergency decrees — that the governments of many countries have imposed on the citizens and claimed that it would only exist temporarily — could be utilized as a pretext for even more outlasting emergencies. Even when infections from the coronavirus reduce to zero, some governments might decide to continue this trajectory of surveillance programs, fearing the second wave of the pandemic. One thing, though, that could be surmised from this trend is that given a choice between privacy and health, individuals would probably go with health.
Secondly, the coronavirus crisis might pave the way for some power-hungry politicians to seize control of the states, turning them into totalitarian res publicas and threatening modern democracy as we know it. This type of transformation is already apparent in Hungary. Using coronavirus as a pretext, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán pushed through a law that suspends elections and gives him the authority to rule indefinitely — making him a temporary dictator. The new law called “coronavirus coup” was passed in order for Orbán to further weaken his political enemies by seizing funding supplemented to opposing political parties for conducting campaigns. Hungary’s situation acts as a warning to the rest of the world and shows us how the global health crisis serves as a golden opportunity for right-wing populists looking to strengthen their political power and further undermine liberal democracy itself. If these politicians succeed in the effort to create a foul play in the political system, we might see a world where the rise of ultra-nationalist sentiments, like Trump’s, is commonplace.
Lastly, this health emergency might give rise to a change in the mindset of individuals towards their governments. As the coronavirus crisis has brought certain governments’ failures in handling the crisis to light, some citizens might not believe in federalism or a split in power any longer. All they care about is the effective and strong central government that they can count on. In the future, we might see people vote not according to the political spectrum or ideologies that they believe in, but for a particular candidate or party that they deem capable of handling the critical crisis in which they may encounter in their lifetime.
Notwithstanding the above points, I have to emphasize that all of these are merely my own speculations of events that ‘may’ happen and are not deemed to be taken seriously as ‘facts’.
Even though the situations of the pandemic in myriad countries are looking a lot better than the first day we discovered the spread of the virus, we still need to continue to fight the infection together as humankind. To defeat the virus, we must share information globally. Countries should be willing to distribute their insights and information openly to others. Moreover, medical equipment, testing kits, and ventilators should be distributed to the countries that need them the most. In this hard time, what we need so badly is global cooperation — not disharmony or an unintelligent blame game on the origin of the virus.
Remember, we are not fighting a war that is compelling us to take sides between two distinctive nations or parties like previous world wars in history did. We are, instead, fighting this war together as humankind against a single common enemy: the COVID-19.