“Reflecting on Today, Facing Forward”

2020-10-26 Academic

The United States and China clashed head-on over COVID-19 issues at the 75th UN General Assembly, which opened in New York on September 22 (local time)

Going through the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed us to clearly recognize this global scourge cannot be solved by a single country on its own and that ending it will require international cooperation. Yet such initiatives are few and far between. The 2020 Peace BAR Festival, which celebrated the 39th anniversary of UN International Day of Peace, was held on September 22, calling attention to this issue. Three academics, who have been immersed in the topics of political philosophy, technography, and international politics in search of silver linings amid our existential crisis, sat together to analyze the current situation and suggest practical solutions. Chancellor Inwon Choue of the Kyung Hee University System, Professor Naomi Oreskes of Harvard University, and Professor G. John Ikenberry of Princeton University (Eminent Scholar [ES] of Kyung Hee) met via videoconference and discussed the theme of “The Era of Urgency, a New Horizon for Political Norms.”

“Simultaneously occurring and interacting existential crises of humanity are making the matters worse.”
Regarding the current situation, Professor Ikenberry said, “We are facing not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also other devastating threats including climate change and WMD proliferation. Tackling this issue requires international cooperation. However, the threat of modern civilization to future of humankind, geopolitical problems, liberal democracy in crisis and other challenges have occurred simultaneously and are closely connected, hampering the problem-solving process.

Chancellor Choue raised the awareness of the issue and said, “The challenge of this time is the fact that the pandemic is not the only problem that is going on. The natural cycle of ecosystem is being destroyed by the very social system and modern civilization that we humans have built up. The challenge is about fundamental values and order of the lives that we have led so far.” With a focus on transcendent connectivity, he noted, “We need a great transition of our perception to see the connection between ourselves and others; society and the world; and nature and civilization. Even while pursuing personal desires, comfort, and happiness, we must always consider society, the world, nature, and the universe. And then internalize the point of connection in our lives to open up the possibility of a reflective and transcendent future.” He noted that bonds and cooperation for problem-solving is possible on the premise of fundamental and holistic reflections and perceptions as well as changes in action at the level of individuals, society, government, and international society.

Professor Oreskes agreed with him. “Coexistence is far from the value of competition that we have pursued to date. This should be replaced with the value of cooperation,” she said and warned, “Now is the time to open brand-new possibilities. We must use our imagination to go further, instead of sticking to the alternatives that we have tried. Otherwise, we may have no future.”

“We must do our best to solve the problem while being alert to the possible collapse of civilization.”
As suggested above, a dismal future will be waiting for us if we fail to reflect on the origin of life and continue to pursue the reckless growth and competition paradigm before. Chancellor Choue noted, “No one can see the future, but one can be assured that, should the current situation plagued by nuclear weapons, climate change, ecosystem destruction, and divisive real-politics continue, humanity may face an unforgiving massive catastrophe. We must do our best to save the day. As expressed by a painful outcry of “internationalism or extinction,” humanity is now living in an era of urgency where the great collapse of civilization starts to take on more and more reality.”

Professor Ikenberry reflected on history and presented a clue to the solution. “The current crisis is similar to the Great Depression in the 1930s. Humanity managed to find a solution even after World War II or the Great Depression. Surely, a time of crisis never failed to urge us to find a new order. It is time to ruminate on our experience and lessons from international cooperation,” he said.

“Now is time to face the reality. Accept scientific evidence and take action to avoid a dismal future.”
Professor Oreskes worried, “It is true that the current crisis is compounded by a litany of issues and getting worse over time. Even so, there is no trace of globally meaningful countermeasures.” “Well-intentioned science and technology can help overcome the crisis. We have no time to waste, however. Now is the time to act,” she stressed. "Many scientists have warned us of the impending catastrophe of climate change, and even though extreme heatwaves; droughts and floods; and typhoons and hurricanes have occurred, some politicians still claim that climate change is a hoax. It is beyond my understanding,” she added, reiterating her call for political action.

The past few decades have seen warnings and denials of climate change in the international community. Chancellor Choue stressed that a shift in perspective on politics is necessary to properly understand such a phenomenon. He said, “Once we are biased toward a certain institution, ideology, or thought and believe that it is absolutely superior, we tend to become hostile to anything else, defeating the original purpose. It is written all over our history. We need a new horizon of politics that transcends the conventional framework and reaches a new realm where open possibilities of our internal values, conscience, and public values will converge. While introspecting, to include looking at the current situation for what it is and working to get over it, we need to take action to prevent catastrophic future scenarios as if they really happened right now right here. With comprehensive reflection on the limitations of perception and action inherent in modern civilization and life, public debate should take place to talk about what path to be taken by individuals, society, and government. In consideration of the entire planet, we should come to grips with the possibility of a time-bomb-like catastrophe.”

“Listen to the voices of future generation and open the horizon of hope.”
Despite the gloomy prospect, the three presenters did not let go of hope. Chancellor Choue said that it is urgent to open the horizon of hope while listening to the voices of future generations. “With global protests in response to climate change, which were triggered by the then fifteen-year-old student Greta Thunberg in 2018, the younger generation is more anxious about future and grow distrustful of established authorities. The older generation, the established society, and incumbent politicians must act now. They should admit that the current crisis, catastrophe, and global disasters are real and then deeply reflect on the limitations of yesterday and today from the perspective of future generations,” he stressed.

Professor Ikenberry agreed and added, “If the older generation cannot create new growth and prosperity engines, future generations have no choice but a lower standard of living and less chance of success than what their parents had. We must come to terms with the fact that we owe a great deal to future generation.” After that, he demanded that citizens be conscious of climate, environmental, and ecological crises and carry their conviction into effect.

“I found hope in the next generation, which pays attention to issues like climate change and take action. The established society should empower and support them to do more.” Professor Oreskes concluded.

※ Videos on the 2020 Peace BAR Festival held from September 22 to 23 will be available on the official Kyung Hee University site in a bid to widely share the wisdom to brave this urgent crisis facing global society.

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