Advantages of disadvantages, or don’t let the quarantine slip through your fingers
Tomáš Sedláček (1977) became known through his book Economics of Good and Evil (OUP 2009) that was translated into 21 languages and won many prestigious prizes. He is a former adviser to Czech revolutionary President Vaclav Havel. He has been listed among the top 100 most influential global thinkers (Top 100 Thought Leaders, GDI). He was a member of the Programme Council for New Economic Thinking of the World Economic Forum, Davos, and advised EC President Barroso on a New Narrative for Europe. He is a sought-after speaker, debater and frequent international commentator. He works for the largest Czech bank as a chief macroeconomic strategist. He lectures at Charles University, Prague, and sits on the boards of many non-profit organisations.
Forget about writing an article, it’s the apocalypse, a friend said to me yesterday. It’s Thursday afternoon and I can already feel that the city has quietened down; I can already feel that the rush, which Komenský claimed was only for beasts (meaning cattle), has come to a stop.
It’s actually quite unimaginable – with the flick of a magic wand, the entire society switches to a slightly post-apocalyptic mode and everyone turns on some sort of austerity mode. Immeasurable economic impacts are being summarised in almost every article, and no wonder – something like this has not happened during our lifetimes, if such a global halt has in fact ever occurred at all.
And so we shall take advantage of a situation we can’t do much about anyway. Personally, I am planning on visiting an empty Old Town Square; on being a tourist in my own, tourist-free city and perhaps even walking the Royal Route. Maybe I’ll even go as far as Wenceslas Square. I want to see a closed-down, evening Prague without the omnipresent buzzing pubs and the rumbling of theatres, the lure of popcorn from cinemas. The world will shrink into a sort of necessary minimum. Oh, and I’ll take a stroll on Charles’ Bridge with relish.
Let’s look at it from the positive side. The world will have a Sabbath. Cities will calm down. People will pause and return a little bit into their own bag of skin, into their own human dimensions. Soon we will likely start missing the tourists, once we discover how empty the city is without them. The issue with threats and cancellations of airline routes from China will resolve itself. After a few weeks of self-ofstracising, we might even start appreciating globalisation; its advantages have become so automatic to us that we’ve almost forgotten about them.
And most importantly: we will have time for our children. We will have time for our loved ones, just like it used to be. I expect that time will slow down and it will drag and flow as slow as honey. Once again, we will invite people over for a visit and cook dinners for one another. Do you realise how quickly we’ve become used to going to restaurants and letting others cook for us? The economy will take a break and, in some areas, polluted air will have a chance to become clean again. People will retreat from being spread out far and wide across the whole world, going back into their natural space. Bohemia’s functional semi-alcoholics will see what it’s like to be without pubs, without their habitual evening freshly poured beers. Perhaps the birth rate will increase. There will be time to read all those books. To finish all those projects we’ve been putting off. There will be more time for reflection, for that hour evening darkness, when all electric turned off. Suspended.
The government and businesses will finally take big strides towards home offices and telework. The older among us will remind what our towns looked like before the borders opened, during communism. We will gain awareness of how fragile our developed society is. New varieties of limited or no-contact greetings will be established. Scientific collaboration will improve. You will be able to take up new hobbies; don’t let the quarantine slip through your fingers. There won’t be any issues with noise disturbances at night. We will likely find out that life without evening cultural events has its own charms as well. There will be time, plenty of time. And we will be at home. A lot. In short, we are undoubtedly in for an experience of a lifetime.
Many people will save money. Critics of consumerism will live their Spring of grace, those who hate large crowds will celebrate. For those who complain of the too-fast tempo of modern life – these are the months of your life. Large cities will become neighboring villages. The global village will become a village (with an internet connection).
Massive derailment into peace
People should always be glad when something derails us from our automatic routine, and this is truly a massive derailment, a derailment into peace. Suddenly, we will have to fill this emptiness with our own selves – this emptiness which happens when the muse and the noise of people quiet down, when life loses that ‘upgrade’ of sports, arts, society, travel, etc. to which we’ve become so accustomed. Maybe we will learn to be with ourselves more, to be ourselves. Maybe we will learn to reflect better, and if not, at least we will have time to sort through all the pictures we’ve accumulated over all these years.
And then the joy when everything starts moving again. Once again, we will know the meaning of our thanks to the mostly unnecessary work we do, and we will go back to drowning out that inner voice which speaks most in the quiet evening hours, when the end of the day draws near.
Written for the Czech Economic Daily (Hospodářské noviny)
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