History shows that times of crisis, such as the one that plagues the world and our country today, are experienced by people and societies from different perspectives. The individual being lives this time with more or less anguish, fear or hope depending on his character and context. Societies do it by digesting these individual emotions and amid the chaos they sometimes, implicitly, others explicitly, survive as they can and end in a clear setback or extract all the learnings that the dark hour can give and advance towards the future . That’s what this article is about, the opportunities that these teachings can leave incorporated forever.
In 1945 the Great Empire of Japan was defeated by the United States of America. The proud country, which in the second half of the 19th century had entered modernity with the Meiji dynasty, had defeated the Russia of the tsars in 1905, and had conquered large areas of Asia at the hands of Japanese fascism, was devastated on all planes. Its industrial production in 1945 did not reach 30% of the 1935 average, agricultural production had decreased by 60% and 40% of the infrastructure and industrial plants were destroyed. More than three million human lives had been lost.
Despite that, the hardest thing for Japanese society was that the entire system of values, convictions, symbols and emotions on which the construction of their nation had been based had, at least, been questioned. The tremendous effect of atomic bombs, the admission of humanity by the formerly divine emperor, and a constitution “dictated” by the victor with institutions and values foreign to his idiosyncrasy seemed to have forever undermined the national foundations. We can delve deeply into the Japanese emotional state of that time through the work of the two writers who marked their twentieth century, Yasunari Kawabata and Yukio Mishima. The post-war Japanese soul is a messy mix between the melancholic sadness of the former and the resigned moral nostalgia of the latter. Both ended up committing suicide.
Six hundred years before these events, in the mid-fourteenth century, Europe was plagued by the so-called black plague, surely coming from Asia Minor. A continent that centuries ago was closed in on itself, which had only just begun to open thanks to the crusades and maritime traffic of some Italian cities, with an eminently agrarian and subsistence economy, suffered the disappearance in some decades of more than one third of its population according to the most optimistic calculations. And although the plague did not distinguish between social strata, the truth is that most of the victims were peasants who supported that productive system.
That Europe that was emerging from the centuries of darkness of the Middle Ages, without national states yet, with a political system where the civil and the religious intermingled in an endless power struggle, seemed to have received a thrust that would indefinitely delay its evolution. However, and without any centralized political leadership, that society took advantage of the vitality it had left to bet on innovation. Knowing that the reality of yesteryear was not going to return, bet on the future by replacing what was lacking with technology. From the wheelbarrow, the iron plow to a draft animal collar that increased its pulling power by five, new navigation and land transport techniques, banking, insurance and commercial companies, the printing press and many other advances allowed almost double internal and external trade in each generation. Finally, in those societies that prospered, the Renaissance emerged in all its magnificent splendor, the great painters, architects, sculptors, philosophers, writers who, with their masterpieces, gave back to the world faith in mankind.
Reading the previous paragraph, one might think that only necessity can teach us the way to overcome. However, going back to Japan, the interesting thing about his case, the great lesson taken from the crisis of 1945, was not the overwhelming economic success that began to unfold in the 1950s. Many of the countries of the Pacific Rim today also they are powers. The true teaching that Japan took had to do with the understanding that the disaster had to do with autocracy, with a government that made decisions without public opinion and where there was no type of freedom or guarantees., intermediate associations, independent press and, fundamentally, the participation of citizens instead of subjects in the decisions that involved them as a nation. Today, Japan constitutes in the Far East, with its strengths and weaknesses, the only democracy whose parameters are similar to those of any western democracy. They learned that democracy basically consists of the possibility of choosing, and they chose.
U.S we are going through today a crisis called coronavirus that, effort by all, will not have the catastrophic characters of the previous examples. We would demonstrate great intelligence if we could already begin to elaborate teachings that allow us to face the coming times and rebuild ourselves as a society.
The first, most instrumental, is knowing that the 21st century can no longer wait for us. Every day our daily life in the quarantine demonstrates this, from which we will leave differently from how we entered. Soft skills, collaborative, interdisciplinary work, new technologies and platforms need that we do not put more obstacles or limits on them, beyond certain actors who defend privileges that today seem stale and conservative. Every day jobs disappear that are no longer sustainable in terms of time, but also every day jobs are created that are what we really need to prosper. We must focus on the areas of strategic knowledge that are currently vacant in our country. The virus shows us day by day where we must direct our efforts.
The second teaching has to do with the behavior of our ruling class. The government knows that it has our support in these difficult circumstances. You should also understand that we have not given you carte blanche, that he will always answer for his actions before the Constitution and that he should not try to take petty advantages from the situation. The opposition must support the policies implemented and, in case of dissent, must do so reasoned and well-founded. The same is true for businessmen, unionists and other power players. In addition, in general terms we could say that all this should be the basis of coexistence from now on. Why can we only have democratic height in these circumstances?
The last great teaching should be that we can always discuss the past to learn from and overcome our mistakes, that it is healthy that societies have memory, but not that they lacerate gloating in their wounds, that societies that progress are those that look forward and discuss the future.