“The only thing which will redeem mankind is co-operation,” observed the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Perhaps only a real crisis is enabling us truly to appreciate what this means and what it might take. What if one of our world leaders wrote to their counterparts in the following terms: “We face unprecedented times. None of us could have imagined these events a few months ago. I write to you with a plea for global co-operation. I acknowledge that we have real differences among us which makes even considering co-operation very difficult.”

“I accept that the reality of the world we have all lived in means it is hard to imagine how we could work together. We have often behaved in a competitive way and said or done things which provoke each other. We have each tended to place our own nations’ interests before wider needs.”

“However, we have never before been so globally connected, nor have we faced a collective crisis like this where disease has spread so rapidly across the planet. This calls for an exceptional response, a response of a different order from anything we have contemplated before.”

“We are all in this together. There is a common threat. We cannot overwhelm it by force. The only way both to overcome this threat to our common humanity and to rebuild our economies is to work together. The only way to get back on our feet quickly is to help each other. That means sharing information about this disease, trying to find a vaccine together, and pooling our technical knowledge about how to prevent it, minimise it and protect ourselves.”

“We must not take advantage of this only to serve our own interests. We will all gain if we combine. If we don’t, we will at best have a sub-optimal outcome and, at worst, end up in what the economists call a zero-sum game. I fear we would all be losers. Our people deserve better than that. How can we deal with this on a global basis? I am sure there are a number of options. We must identify these and find the best way forward, calling on the expertise available to us all. May I suggest that we schedule an online meeting as soon as possible to begin?”

“We are expected to be leaders. In the interests of our common humanity, let us exercise that leadership in a new and constructive way. Above all, let us hold on to hope. The hope of a future where we recognise that we, and the planet which sustains us, are interdependent, vulnerable and much in need of co-operation in order to survive.”

A pipe dream? Or mankind’s only redemption?


Published in The Times on Tuesday 21 April 2020.




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