Is de-globalising the world a way to prevent global catastrophes?

Amid growing concerns regarding the role of globalisation on the COVID19 outbreak, Professor Y.N. Harari explains why long-term political isolationism does not offer real protection against infectious diseases, and other global threats.

The devastating effect of world’s biggest ever flu outbreak

While people blame globalisation for having facilitated the spread of the covid-19 calling at the same time for isolationism as the magical formula against more epidemic outbreaks, historian and philosopher Professor Yuval Noah Harari (Y.N. Harari) explains why long-term isolationism does not offer real protection against infectious diseases (and other global threats).

On March 15, the Israeli professor published In the Battle Against Coronavirus, Humanity Lacks Leadership (link below) on making the covid-19 emergency a must-remember lesson for years to come.

To win the fight against global threats and to free ourselves from the psychosis of the catastrophes, we need global cooperation. The magical formula is not new as cooperation is the only tool we, humans, have had at our disposal to survive. People before Y.N. Harari have already advocated for cooperation to win over individualism, and whether it is football or not “either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals”.

Y.N. Harari’s words may not sound like Al Pacino’s motivational speech, but he definitely knows his stuff, i.e. history. Thus, he provides an overview of the incidence and impacts of virus outbreaks before globalisation showing what humanity looks like without global cooperation.

In the XIV century, the Black Death spread from East Asia to Western Europe in little more than a decade killing almost 100 million people. In Florence, 50,000 people, half of the population, lost their lives. 

In March 1520, a single smallpox carrier, Francisco de Eguia, landed in Mexico. In a country with “no train, buses or even donkeys”, by December the whole Central America lost up to one third of its population.

The Black Death – the Republic of Venice was infected in 1630–31

In 1918, a virulent strain of flu spread within few months infecting more than a quarter of the human species and killing, estimates say, perhaps 100 million people in less than a year.

From this perspective, Y.N. Harari draws two main lessons.

Firstly, history shows that epidemics spread rapidly even in Middle Ages, long before the age of globalisation. Thus, he ironically claims that “to really protect yourself through isolation, going medieval won’t do. You would have to go full Stone Age”.

Secondly, history tells us that real protection comes from sharing reliable scientific information, and from global solidarity. A high level of international trust and cooperation is needed to effectively implement quarantine measures, which are essential to stop the spread of the virus. Implementing such drastic measures depend, to a large extent, on what one country expects from others. If one country believes in other countries’ support, it is very likely that it will adopt such strict measures. Vice versa, if it feels left alone and ostracised, it will hesitate until it is too late. 

This tbt exercise works well with epidemic diseases as much as it works with other global threats like ecological collapse and technological disruption. Whether we have to fight against deadly viruses or catastrophic ecological changes, cooperation is the only way to survive. The next question is: which country or group of countries will coordinate global cooperation?

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