Sharing Our Paths through Storms: Challenges and Choices

Author:  | Wednesday, June 10th, 2020 | 

Schlagwörter »  |  Category: News

By Dr. Jackson Janes

Two decades ago, a book followed by a movie came out called The Perfect Storm. The author Sebastian Junger had written about a terrible mixture of three storms off the New England coast which merged together in a once-in-a-century catastrophe. Ever since then, the idea of a perfect storm — and there is nothing perfect about it — is applied to describe a combination of challenges merging together to cause havoc.

Over the past few weeks the Covid-19 pandemic storm alone has caused havoc around the world, but it has brought with it a second, contingent storm in the form of major economic disruption throwing millions of people out of work, driving stock markets rapidly down, and leaving governments faced with dramatic fiscal and monetary choices in dealing with the implosion.  Another storm in the US emerged around the murder of George Floyd, sparking a nationwide storm of outrage over the continuing plague of racism, which was then shared around the world in many countries that confront their own version of these diseases.

This storm was related to another which is seen in the waves of right-wing populist leaders and movements which seek to incite cultural and political divisions within societies and, in doing so, generate counter forces on the left which also can add to the polarization of democracies. In some cases, democratic institutions are sufficiently weakened to give way to autocratic trends. And countries already in the grip of autocratic regimes make arguments that they can manage these challenges better than democracies.

Still more dangerous windstorms had been blowing for a much longer period of time in the form of social economic disparities in many countries, which adds to the smoldering of anger, grievances, and resentment among those who feel that a rising tide of economic wealth has not reached their lives.

All these challenges seem to be emerging around the same time. Europe has seen various forms of backlash, anger, and even violence in many countries, including Germany. The number of anti-Semitic and racial attacks within Germany has significantly increased in recent years. Germany is no less susceptible to the dangers of racism than any other society, and we see similar trends in many other countries in Europe, exacerbated by the increasing strength of right-wing groups and political parties such as the AfD (Alternative for Germany), which is now the largest opposition group in the Bundestag.

In the US, the murder of George Floyd is one of many such instances in which black men and white police clash with violent consequences. The larger story of social and economic inequities for both white and black populations in US society have long histories. The asymmetries of wealth, health care, education and employment are serious dilemmas which have accelerated the cost paid in the enormous increase in deaths due to the spread of drugs, opioids and other addictions. And the pandemic has hit minorities in society much harder than middle- and upper-class cluster.

Each society has its own history, weaknesses, strengths, and capabilities in dealing with these storms. But like with the pandemic, when there is a combination of storms coming together, the strain on our institutions, our policies, our politics, and our people is enormous. The strong storms in Sebastian Junger’s story were to take many lives with them – but the skies cleared. Many of the storms we face today will be with us for far longer and will not clear quickly. It is then that the bonds of community, small or large, become the foundation on which to recover. Right now, that is what is needed among national partners. In turn, that takes leaders who recognize the need to join forces, and resources—such as the resources of expertise found in great universities like in Freiburg. Now is the time when those capabilities are the basis of preparing us for understanding how to meet present challenges and explore future possibilities. We need them now more than ever.

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