“We need a fundamental rethink”

Long-distance society instead of mass mobility: curator and media theorist Peter Weibel discusses the consequences of the corona crisis for our society.

Peter Weibel of the ZKM talks about coronavirus and its consequences.
Peter Weibel of the ZKM talks about coronavirus and its consequences.

Peter Weibel, CEO of the Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (ZKM) as well as artist, curator and media theorist, regards our penchant for masses – mass mobility, mass consumption and intensive livestock farming – as an important reason for the corona crisis. He says we need to reduce all that and rethink. Here you can read what reforms he is calling for.

Mr Weibel, you would like to see fundamental reforms of our economic, social and cultural systems after the corona crisis. What’s wrong with the existing ones?

Where proximity rules, the coronavirus also rules: on ships, in canteens, in carnival processions, in nightclubs, at sporting events and in densely populated city districts. Every large gathering of people can endanger them. The signals are plain to see. That’s why the order of the day is: avoid proximity with others and keep your distance to steer clear of infection. If we didn’t have telecommunications technologies – from the telephone to the Internet – we wouldn’t be able to communicate at present. Life is now taking place at a distance and from a distance. If we track the spread of the virus, we find we are following the movements of mass tourism and global supply chains. Mass mobility, mass tourism and mass events contribute to the spread of the virus. The same also applies to the increasing interpenetration of the food production and living areas of humans and animals. That means the way we produce, the way our economy focuses on mass transport, mass production, mass consumption and intensive livestock farming, is increasingly contrary to an ecology that serves human life and life on earth.

Therefore, masses are our problem …

Yes, economic, social and cultural reforms should begin by addressing the problem of masses. For example, mass movements of humans and goods: the government ought to change direction and compel firms in the car and aircraft sector to invest their commercial gains in finding forms of transport that are more environmentally compatible than existing ones as soon as possible. Unfortunately, however, I see that the German government would like to continue supporting the very companies that are part of the reason for the present global corona crisis.

So what should we change?

It is imperative that we fundamentally rethink the principles of our culture, our economy and our society. For example, we could learn that humankind will only survive on this planet if other living things, from plants to animals, also survive. We must not move too near to certain animals, but leave them enough space. Otherwise we will also come too close to their viruses. We must relativise globalisation – above all, global supply chains – and find the path towards a relocalisation. We must use existing telecommunications instruments to finally arrive in a digital long-distance society of the 21st century. And above all we must live more symbiotically and more coexistentially, which means showing greater respect for our fellow creatures’ right to live.

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