It is often said that from this we will emerge better as a society and also individually, if we look in history, after a health crisis of this caliber has it always been improved?
It must be borne in mind that we analyze those societies that have overcome the crisis and the challenge; those that have mismanaged the exit are difficult to follow because they have failed, they have practically disappeared.
In other epidemics were they aware of their severity?
They have always been mixed with very critical moments of society. For example, the so-called Spanish flu of the triennium 1918-1921 was linked to the end of the First World War. Now, in the First World, we live in a society happy to meet each other, to which nothing could happen, except in matters that aimed to be careful with climate change, with the sustainability of the economy and its relationship with nature. We did not think that we could suddenly stop and face a challenge that we are not quite sure we have the exact knowledge to overcome. It is surprising that the same questions that were there when I wrote the book in the first confinement are still pending answers.
He says that when the pandemic of the Byzantine Empire took place they had been debating the nature of Christ for centuries, in the same way that we are currently arguing about the idea of capital.
The intelligentsia in each era places as the central axis of its debate an element that is not fundamental but is decisive. Here we were discussing in recent years the place of capital and whether its economic form, capitalism, had a future or not.
Have you found any parallels in how leaders and intellectuals now behave with respect to behavior in previous epidemics?
Yes, but with a very curious difference: it is the time when the debate is less, except that taken to almost ridiculous extremes of denial or conspiracy. The real problem is not sought in the different fields, from microbiology to the consequences of the economic model on society. In the literary field the Black Death gave Boccaccio. I hope that the coronavirus causes the feeling that to understand history, the variable epidemics must be taken into account as one of the engines of change, just like culture or the economy.
What mistakes have we made again and what should we be careful not to repeat mistakes?
If we do not think well about the past, we will not build the future well. The management of the pandemic has to be local but from a global point of view, with a series of dominant attitudes and values. In the seventeenth century, medicine took a leap forward in preventing and curing an epidemic. We are cowed if we do not manage to make our hospital and health system respond to the possibility of the pandemic spreading; there is an extraordinary fear of discovering our sanitary weakness. Everything we are doing to solve this epidemic is inherited from history: we put on masks as in the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, we force quarantine because a series of merchants from Genoa or Venice decided to do so in the fourteenth century; We disinfect our hands because that is what the doctors decided, who in the 17th century created a pharmacology to avoid contagion.
The model of civilization we were building is unaffordable
How does the “day after” the pandemic develop?
This concept refers to the moment in which the collective awareness of the severity of the pandemic and its management is realized. This management has been fragmented in this global world: there are countries that have done well and have already solved the problem of vaccination; others, like ours, are still in its infancy. Some say that when the coronavirus is isolated we will return to the day before, to the party and to carpe diem. That would be a very serious historical mistake. I fear that this point of frivolity that we sometimes have in the face of great problems prevents us from understanding that nature has warned us that the model of civilization that we were building in the First World, a society of digital technology with too much social and economic division, is unaffordable. We will get out of this because of the vaccine and the knowledge of history, but not all areas of the planet are taking the same attitude.
In fact, the 1908 flu was followed by civil wars, the Holocaust and the rise of totalitarianism.
That is the danger, that we want to go back to the crazy 1920s. A morphological change arises from every pandemic, which in World War II was inevitably the creation of the European Union, whose first sketches took 30 years to make; and in that period of time passed the worst years in the history of Europe of all time.
What important decisions must we make?
The first is to become aware that Covid-19 is an attack of nature that can be repeated immediately, we have to reflect on how we are attacking it and it defends itself. The second is the awareness of what the human being wants to be. We need a history that reflects, a sociology that understands the real ills of the population, a politics that knows how to solve problems and avoid the marketing of positions and petty interests of political parties. The 21st century challenges us to change in this direction or I would say to disappear. We must not continue to be addicted to toxic elements for the whole of society.