Being civically engagedSkill to think critically and to question policiesSupporting learners in developing critical thinking

Policies during the “Corona” crisis – Totalitarian surveillance or citizen empowerment?

COVID – 19, also known as Coronavirus, has been THE global crisis of our generation. You too have probably been in self-isolation and #stayhome hashtag has been on your TV or social media screen for months. Governments all over the world have taken measures and adopted policies that in “normal” times would take years to be adopted. Probably, one of the most efficient measures to restrict the spread of C-19 would be to have a surveillance system over its citizens, to track down and rewind the movement of the infected people and identify potentially infected people with whom they have been in touch. The surveillance system can also be used to penalize the disobedient citizens that do not respect the restrictions of movement. This sounds logical and people would instinctively prioritize health over privacy, and most probably approve these measures. But, think again. What would be the consequences of such decisions and policies? Do we want this only as a short measure or we would feel safer if this becomes a “regular” practice because of possible outbreaks of other viruses? What is the other side of the coin?

This article is based on Yuval Noah Harari’s analyses in his text “The World After the Corona” published in Financial Times. It takes a critical view of the possible measures that Governments are taken and is giving a longer-term perspective of the “urgent” measures that might be taken. The ability to bring different perspectives on the “obvious” solutions by having in mind the longer-term consequences is one of the crucial skills of a trainer who develops his civic engagement competence.

Harari’s view on the matter is that during this time of crisis, the urgent decisions that are taken will determine the world that we will live in, after the crisis. His view is that we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.

  1. Under-the-skin surveillance

Today, for the first time in human history, technology makes it possible to monitor everyone all the time. Several Governments have used the new surveillance tools. Using hundreds of face-recognition cameras, monitoring people’s smartphones, obliging people to report their temperature and medical conditions. Monitoring systems have already been used to track and monitor people and manipulate their consumer behavior, but what might be the crucial line here, is that now when we touch the screen on the phone, it will not know only what did I click, but also what is my temperature and blood pressure. Knowing this crucially changes the game. “Boredom, joy, laughter, and anger are biological phenomena, like fever and cough. If we allow Governments and corporations access our biometric data, they know what makes us happy, what makes us happy and what makes us really, really angry. This can lead to a totalitarian surveillance system. Afterwards, it is easy to manipulate the masses whenever it is for economic or political aims.” – this is a summarizing Harari’s arguments. He continues to share examples of history when Governments took certain measures only on a “short-term” level to overcome a crisis, but after it took years to withdraw a measure that is in favor of politicians and other interested parties (such as businessmen).

2. Citizens empowerment

On the other hand, he shares very positive examples of how certain countries have managed to take under control the crisis through honest reporting, well-informed public and cooperation. For this to happen, he argues, people need to have trust. People need to trust science, to trust public authorities and to trust the media. Unfortunately, trust has been deprived in recent years by irresponsible politicians that it is in their favor to disregard the science and manipulate the public with false information. And to build trust it takes years, but in times of crisis it can happen much faster – he argues. “You can have bitter arguments with your siblings for years, but when some emergency occurs, you suddenly discover a hidden reservoir of trust and you rush to help each other.” Harari is taking a look at the other side of the coin and is saying that instead of building a surveillance regime, we need to use this opportunity to restore people’s trust in science, in public authorities and in the media. Using new technologies is beneficial and it can be used for people to make well-informed choices. And also, we should not forget that the same system that is built to monitor citizens, can be used for citizens to monitor the Government. “This is a test of citizenship. If we fail to make the right choices, we might find ourselves signing away our most precious freedoms, thinking that this is the only way to safeguard our health.” – Harari argues.

You can read the full article on the Financial Times website: https://www.ft.com/content/19d90308-6858-11ea-a3c9-1fe6fedcca75

Why did I choose this tool?

Harari is a unique and a leading global thinker and his analyses and critical thinking provide a valuable source for inspiration for everyone. This article is an example of critical thinking by weighing different aspects of very important issues, privacy and health. Our survival instinct would probably choose health, but when thinking deeper and long-term we might be signing a contract with the devil, by not being aware of it. We can make a choice that will encompass both, privacy and health, instead of choosing the one over another.

Reflection questions

If you would be a decision maker how would you approach the issue?

How do you build trust? What makes you trustworthy?

What aspects would you consider when making a decision in times of “crisis”? (economical, political, societal, environmental)

Exercise:

Experiential learning activities actually are longer and can be at the end of each session or the day. It can be used as a reflection group by the end of each day or the training in general. It can be marked as a treasure hunt game at the very beginning of the training and can be used as a team building activity, cooperation, social cohesion and experiential learning about the participants and/or environment (these depends of the tasks given for the treasure hunt)

But most important things or questions to highlight are:

          Link the training activities to the real world in general or everyday life`s happenings

          Actively engage through the process

          Build conviction that individual behavior matters

          Provide a short debrief as a trainer, but allow other participants to make statements too, in order to help the process and feel the support of each other

“Digital dictatorships are not the only danger awaiting us. Alongside liberty, liberal order has also set great store by the value of equality. Liberalism always cherished political equality, and it gradually came to realise that economic equality is almost as important. For without a social safety net and a modicum of economic equality, liberty is meaningless. But just as Big Data algorithms might extinguish liberty, they might simultaneously create the most unequal societies that ever existed. All wealth and power might be concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite, while most people will suffer not from exploitation, but from something far worse – irrelevance.” – Yuval Noah Harari

Antonio Jovanovski

Antonio Jovanovski has extensive experience of training and facilitating diverse groups all over Europe. His training and facilitating experience started during his AIESEC years (www.aiesec.org) where he served as President of AIESEC in N. Macedonia and France. Currently, he is a director of a youth environmental NGO (www.gogreen.mk) where he works on the topics of climate change, youth eco-activism, greening of economy, greening of education and jobs. He is also a member of the Pool of trainers of [email protected] partnership on employability and entrepreneurship (www.youthatworkpartnership.org)

Click here to read more about Antonio Jovanovski

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ft.com

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