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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 37  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 136-137

Ten lessons for a post-pandemic world

Prof. R. Srinivasa Murthy, Mental Health Advisor, The Association for the Mentally Challenged, Dharmaram College, Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission12-Mar-2021
Date of Acceptance12-Mar-2021
Date of Web Publication31-Mar-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. R Srinivasa Murthy
Mental Health Advisor, The Association for the Mentally Challenged, Dharmaram College, Bangalore - 560 025, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijsp.ijsp_60_21

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How to cite this article:
Murthy R S. Ten lessons for a post-pandemic world. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2021;37:136-7

How to cite this URL:
Murthy R S. Ten lessons for a post-pandemic world. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2021 [cited 2023 Feb 6];37:136-7. Available from: https://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2021/37/1/136/312802

Author : Fareed Zakaria

Publisher : Penguin-Allan Lane, London, 2020

Year of Publication : 6 Oct 2020

Pages : 313 pages

ISBN : 0393542130

Cost: Hardcover : Rupees 445/ Kindle: 422.75

Humanity is experiencing one of the most challenging periods of human history, the form of the current pandemic. Conceptualizing why it happened, what does it mean, and where do we go from here are the questions prominent in the minds of one and all. This book under review is a valuable guide to make sense of the situation. This is a book not about the pandemic but rather about the world that is coming into being as a result of the pandemic and – more importantly – our responses to it. Any large shock can have diverse effects, depending on the state of the world at the time and on how human beings react – with fear or denial or adaptation. The approach of the author is somewhat like taking psychiatric assessment. An individual comes with a symptom such as sadness, sleep disturbance, or irritability. What we do is to not only take details of the presenting problem but also look into his/her personal history, past history, and his/her personality and then examine the person to arrive at a diagnosis and plan for treatment. This is the same approach of the book. Fareed Zakaria looks at the past, present, and future through a myriad of views, such as the human history, politics, economics, development, technology, and human nature, and helps the reader to make sense of the complex situation.

The book has 12 chapters with catchy titles focusing one major aspect at a time. These are Buckle up; What matters is not the quantity of government but the quality of government; Markets are not enough; People should listen to the Experts – and the Experts should listen to the People; Life is digital; Aristotle was right; We are social animals; Inequality will get worse; Globalization is injured but not dead; The world is becoming bipolar; Sometimes – the greatest realists are the idealists. Each chapter is rich with historical developments, anecdotes, and interesting facts to present the complexity of the issue.

Few examples will illustrate this:

”The bubonic plague had seismic effects. Scholars believe that with so many dead, the economics of the time was turned on its head. Walter Scheidel explains that labor became scarce and land abundant, so wages rose and rents fell. Workers won more bargaining power and nobles lost out. Beyond these material effects, the plague prompted an intellectual revolution. Many 14th-century Europeans asked why God would allow this hell on earth and questioned entrenched hierarchies – which had the ultimate effect of helping Europe break out of its medieval malaise and setting in motion the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment.”

”The pandemic, for its part, can be thought of as nature's revenge. The way we live now is practically an invitation for animal viruses to infect humans. Bats used to live farther from humans. But, as we encroached on their habitats, their diseases increasingly became our diseases.”

”But, the pandemic laid bare fissures that have been persistently widening. They were best described decades ago by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who wrote that America was defined by 'private opulence and public squalor'.”

”The creation of a national strategy for the pandemic, for example, was complicated by the existence of 2684 state, local, and tribal health departments, each jealously guarding its independence. To make matters even messier, the US has 90,126 units of state and local government, many of which were tasked with devising their own rules on mask-wearing and public gatherings. But, this patchwork of authority is a nightmare when tackling a disease that knows no borders. The fragmentation of standards is especially acute when handling COVID-19 tests. Results are reported via a bewildering mishmash of old and new technology – by phone, data feed, e-mail, snail mail, and even fax, producing mountains of paper that leave out essential patient data. It has made something like police reform dependent on the actions of 18,000 separate police departments across the country.”

”The healthcare system in the United States is a vast, complex, and expensive one, but it responds to market incentives. Facilities for testing and treatment are concentrated in wealthy areas, forcing people who live elsewhere to find their way to substandard facilities. Doctors must spend large amounts of time making the business end of their practice work, giving priority to the procedures that generate the most revenue. Hospitals are run like hotels, aiming to fill their beds.”

”Yuval Noah Harari argues that for all the social, political, and economic changes over the millennia, human beings have not changed much physically or mentally – until now. The combination of these twin revolutions – in biology and computing – will allow human beings to expand their physical and mental capacities. The result, he says, will be the creation of a God-like superman: Homo Deus.”

”In a sad reminder of America's greatest inequity, Blacks are more than twice as likely to get COVID as Whites. Moreover, nationwide, Blacks have an overall COVID fatality rate 2.3 times higher than Whites, and in some states up to four times higher. One-third of African-Americans say they personally know someone who has died of COVID-19, compared to only 9% of Whites.”

There is a very fascinating story from the movie Lawrence of Arabia. I will leave it to the readers to find it and reflect on it.

The observations especially relevant to social psychiatry are in [Box 1].

  1. This is an important book for reflection and to make sense of each of our individual lives, family life, community organization, governance, and mental health of populations. There is much that we do not know, as yet, we are not out of the pandemic. The book provides a broad framework to understand the pandemic and the likely days ahead. I strongly recommend reading this book by all mental health professionals. There is a lot of gain from this effort. I would conclude the review with the observation of the author, “So, too, in our times, this ugly pandemic has created the possibility for change and reform. It has opened up a path to a new world. It is ours to take that opportunity or squander it. Nothing is written.”


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