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HUMANities: Medicine, Culture and Research post-COVID-19

Bijgewerkt: apr 25

written by Artur C. Jaschke


We are living in exceptional times. The consequences of the current COVID-19 Pandemic have caused great concern, and the measures taken to combat it have restricted our freedoms.

Even though there are multiple economic and political initiatives to save sectors like the entertainment, food or cultural industries, we have to be honest to ourselves in light of past crises; the arts will suffer most retrenchments years from now.

In the past hundred years, human beings we have only once experienced a Pandemic on such a large scale before with the Spanish Flu. It is here, affects all of us worldwide and cannot be put on the pile of fake and yesterdays news in a country somewhere far away from home.

The world is infected. Each and every one of us has to live with the consequences and measures that have been dropped in front of our feet; whether we are confined to our homes or are working in so-called vital jobs, we cannot escape the fact that a pandemic on such a scale will inevitably change the way we see and experience the world we have so far shaped and lived in.

Medical personnel are fighting each day, every hour and minute to keep deaths to a minimum, combating an invisible enemy, who strikes whenever and wherever. Even though science has repeatably warned us of the possibility of such a global disaster, hardly any advice was taken serious enough to increase research funding, means and staff. While we finally see and understand the importance of scientific research in times like these – better late than never one could say – its importance to society has shifted from an intriguing laboratory somewhere on the campus of a university to centre stage of news and views globally. Worldwide we have entered a new phase, a new rat race to find a suitable vaccine, to find ways to cure and care properly for the infected and to be able to contain this virus as much as we possibly can. Governments have invested whopping amounts of money into the search for a vaccine – again, better late than never – knowing for a long time that more structural funding and investment was needed to prepare for any given possible crisis. As Yuval Noah Harari recently stated, we might just be paying the price for not having taken scientific research serious enough. These days, hardly anyone will or can argue that we have to invest into as many resources as possible to find a vaccine to stop further contamination and infection as well as ensure economic stability.

Fast forward a few months from now; our lives as we know them return to more or less ‘normal’. Well, we still have to keep our two-meter distance radius and having diner, in a restaurant seems a bit exclusive with only ten where before there were thirty tables, but we made it through the worst. The news does not start with the latest numbers of infections and deaths anymore and focuses on elections, warmongery, illusions of power and the weather. This current Pandemic will slowly fade into the background, forgotten by many, as they have moved on.

While listening to Godspeed you Black Emperor’s Dead Flag Blues, we will come to realize that this moment of potential normality will mark the real danger post-COVID-19.

Everybody who has suffered from the virus, everybody who has lost loved ones or friends, all medical doctors, nurses, health-care staff and scientists, all involved in the daily battle against this pandemic will never forget the year 2020. As politics and the economy will start to find ways to fill the national saving accounts again, the work of care has only just begun. Post intensive-care syndrome, post-traumatic stress syndrome, burnout, depression, fear, anxiety and social distancing as a new virus of the 21st century, will affect us all. Even though most of us will suffer from mild psychological discomforts, they will be looking to avert their minds with a good concert, a visit to the museum, a good book, a discussion about poetry, however, will find themselves falling into a gapping black hole as the cultural sector has been hit hard during the crisis and will now be hit even harder, as there is a repeating pattern emerging after every crisis: retrenchments in the arts and cultural sector, then education and finally healthcare. While a more economic approach in the latter two may be on hold for the near future – we all have seen the huge amount of work that has been done in the healthcare sector and we all have experienced some form of home-education-childcare – the arts and cultural sector will seem like the perfect victim once again to be striped to her bare bones and left out shivering in the fierce cold winds of the approaching winters. Art will again seem a luxury that does not contribute to anything substantial in world politics and economics, and therefore can be cut in half, in quarters and eighths over and over again. But it is exactly the Arts, with Dance, Paintings, Literature and above all Music, which have to be at the new frontier of post – COVID-19 care.

We all have witnessed the balcony concerts in Italy, singing together from the windows of empty streets in Spain, musicians traveling to care-homes and perform in front of the windows of the elderly or simply listening to music while commuting home after an 18-hour shift in the Intensive Care Unit. It is our idea of mental well-being, utilising the arts and sharing our feelings through them. They allow us to reflect and have therefore become part of our basic needs as human beings. Cutting the budgets in the cultural sector therefore, will once again halt the care that is needed now and will be needed for years to come, from the young nurse who has dedicated her days caring for the ones mentally as well as physically affected by the pandemic to the mental well-being of our family members and incontrovertibly ourselves. In moments of utter despair and crisis, we all find our refuge and hope in a throbbing beat of a RnB song, the fast lyrics of a Rap, the walking bass line of a Jazz tune, the powerful sound of a Rock-song, the soothing strings of a symphony and the loving memory of a warm safe place of a Ballad. Music resets our mind, allows us to escape the here and now for that one second. That second, which in Neuroscientific terms is an eternity, allows our minds to touch base again, immerse ourselves in something greater than our thoughts, experiencing it with others at home, in a concert-hall or a festival. It is the Music of all genres and in all her forms that like never before has brought people together. She has generated hope, strength, that spark that makes you go that extra mile, sharing our sorrows, pains, grieves and fears, as-well as our joys, laughter and jests.

While we need to keep investing in science and medical appliances and applications, we cannot forget the third corner in this triangle which are the HUMANities; amalgamating specialists from all scientific fields in a post-disciplinary area. It is a contribution to our quality of life, through culture, through music. It is an asset to the development of every human being as early as birth and accompanying us throughout life. It is the arts that make us human and which do not know boundaries or hierarchies and thus allow to translate these values to our interactions in society. Understanding the arts therefore, transfers to our behaviours, cognition and emotions as we share these with others.

We cannot recreate these experiences solely in the digital realm as we know it now. Digitalisation and technology should not be fetishised but seen as an addition to the lives we live, the connections we make, the moments we share: we do not store memories, faces or interactions, we story them with and through the arts.

We are experiencing something which has been hidden to most of us for a very long time; being human is more than reshaping the world around us until it suits our western economic political ways, it is utilising the cultural tools and artistic crafts that we have evolved with and mold them into the comprehension of our mental well-being and humanity at large.

In light of the recent injection of millions of Euro’s into the Art and Cultural sector, maybe we are just capable of staring a new chapter in the story of shared responsibility and resilient futures: something we have to do together.

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©2019 Artur Jaschke