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There is no going back to normal if the Damocles’ sword hangs over our heads

Over and over again I heard these days the phrase "I hope this will soon be over so we can return to our normal lives." Although that phrase reflects a well-intentioned feeling, it seems to forget something important: there is no normality or return to normality when Damocles' sword hangs from a hair above our heads.

According to history, in the 4th century BC, Damocles so flattered King Dionysius II of Syracuse that the king invited him to change places for a day. Damocles accepted and promptly sat on the throne, only to find a large sword hanging above his head from a single horsehair, with the possibility of the sword falling at any moment.

As Cicero later recounted, Damocles learned his lesson and immediately cast aside any claim to be king, even only for a day. But the one who did not learn his own lesson was Dionysus himself, who remained a tyrant as he always had been, or even worse. 

The current crisis (better said, meta-crisis) created by the pandemic can, metaphorically, be understood as two Damocles’ swords, because, on the one hand, after achieving everything we always wanted (technology, science, capitalism, globalization), now that we are forced to look up, we discover how fragile and vulnerable we are.

And, on the other hand, as South Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han has already warned, the lessons the virus could teach global leaders and politicians are unlikely to be learned, thus (hopefully not) causing the most dehumanizing and fierce version of capitalism that we have known to emerge. 

That is why we said above that we are not in a crisis, but in a meta-crisis, that is, a crisis where numerous crises simultaneously converge, from what could be considered (from a certain perspective) the first truly global pandemic, to the evident ineptitude of those in charge of responding to the crisis, up to the failure of the global model implemented up to now.

It seems that we like to live with Damocles' sword above our heads because, as children do, we believe that if we close our eyes and don’t see it, that sword will no longer be there. And those who, like Dionysius, got used to living with the sword, continue to do so without amending their lives to dedicate themselves to living virtuous lives, as Cicero asked.

But Damocles' sword is real and it's not just one. As Israeli historian Yuval Harari has indicated on more than one occasion and long before the current crisis, our generation could be the last (or one of the last) before the extinction of humanity (probably to be replaced by intelligence artificial.)

Should we then lose all hope? Of course not! But we should not fall into the temptation of self-deception by believing that it is possible to return to the normality of the past, because there was nothing normal in that normality, as the present makes clear. It is time to co-create a new future, a new beginning, as Bonhoeffer imagined. 

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