Universalist Humanism and the Pandemic



The aim of this presentation is not to analyse the causes of, the responsibilities for, nor viable solutions to the pandemic. Considering that the COVID-19 situation has aggravated the instability of both institutional systems and individuals worldwide, I shall begin by acknowledging that it is precisely such moments of instability that open up “cracks” in the world of the established, cracks from which elements of change may issue, leading in new directions. Looking at the state of affairs following the outbreak of the pandemic, one discerns elements pointing in an anti-humanist direction, as well as elements pointing in a humanist direction.

  Hence questions arise, which I do not presume to answer in full. I do hope, however, to offer some points to ponder in order to answer them:

  • Could the impact of the pandemic on human conscience activate the ability to imagine and, therefore, build a new ethical, social and personal paradigm, as a meaningful step towards the Universal Human Nation?
  • Have the severe consequences of the pandemic, on a social and personal level, contributed to favourable conditions for a dialogue that allows the proposal of new humanism to reach interlocutors who share an interest in the same vision?
  • May we regard the pandemic as an agent of acceleration of historical change, in the context of the difficult transaction between the world as we know it and the world to come?
  • Will this acceleration allow for the image of a different future to take root into the human heart, just as the image of a different relationship between every person and their neighbour, one in which the other is looked at with new compassion and tolerance, and the image of a different relationship between every human being and their soul?
  1.   The first stage of the pandemic brought a sense of sharing and solidarity with other humans, the awareness of a fate shared by most of the world population, a shared frailty, the necessity of a shared answer, in short, the awareness of belonging to the same human family. A great number of charitable initiatives in support of the weakest bloomed spontaneously out of it. This experience seems to have been swiped away by the worsening of the situation, of fear, preoccupation, and institutional wants. This, however, is most likely a picture construed by the media, since, as a matter of fact, voluntaries continue to work assiduously to ensure support.

  However things may have gone, this experience now belongs with the experiential, mnemonic baggage of individuals and communities, as a viable relationship with the other that could tear down the wall of indifference, and become part of the psycho-social background, which we have already enjoyed the opportunity of discussing[1], as an agent of transformation.

  1.   A second reflection concerns the possibility that the proposal of New Humanism, as defined by the framework of this Symposium, will reach, in the current situation, an ever-growing number of interlocutors, who are awake to its significance and centrality.

  In the thesis[2] discussed at his Commencement honoris causa at the Moscow Academy of Science in 1993, Silo noticed how, when illustrating his thought, he often fell under the impression that, even though the audience could easily follow the logic of his discourse, he would still fail to get through to most. He then proceeded to analyse the necessary conditions for a dialogue to take place, defining “dialogue” as a relationship of reflection or discussion among people and sides, where one can accept, refute, or doubt what the other states. Among these, the intention underlying the discourse, defining its subject and the universe in which propositions are inscribed, becomes especially relevant. Within its field falls the global importance that each side may assign to a given theme, an importance which is not tied to the theme per se, but rather to a set of believes, a scale of values and interests independent of the theme. These are pre-dialogic elements, operating within a specific epochal and social horizon, often mistaken by individuals as the product of their personal experience and observations.

  If the propositions of contemporary Humanism fail to connect properly to many interlocutors, that is because of the persistency of scruples and believes pertaining to previous historical moments, which assign greater importance to themes other than those foregrounding the human being. In conclusion, Silo states that “We will see no full dialogue on the fundamental questions of today’s civilization until we, as a society, begin to lose our belief in the innumerable illusions fed by the enticements of the current system”.[3]

  Now, it appears that the ongoing pandemic has thoroughly shaken said belief, given that its dramatic aftermath can no longer be concealed nor dissimulated.

  The OXFAM[4] Report of January 2021, entitled “The Inequality Virus” and published at the World Economic Forum of Davos, highlights how the coronavirus pandemic is potentially destined to produce a simultaneous surge of inequalities in almost every country in the world. The virus has exacerbated and drawn attention to pre-existing disparities on the economic, racial, and gender levels.

Some data:

  • Billionaire capital was restored to its astronomical pre-pandemic levels in just nine months, whereas the recovery of the poorest people in the world may take more than a decade.
  • The increase in the capital of the 10 richest billionaires in the world, that was registered at the start of the crisis, would more than suffice to prevent all people on earth from becoming destitute because of the virus and make the anti-COVID-19 vaccine available to all.
  • On a global level, women are overrepresented in the economic sectors that have been most affected by unemployment.
  • Brazilians of African descent have been 40% more likely to die from COVID-19 than the white population and, in the United States, Afro-American and Latin-American citizens have been more likely to die from COVID-19 than white citizens.

  The crisis of the coronavirus has struck an already greatly unequal world. A world in which a small group of more than 2,000 billionaires owned more capital than they could spend in a thousand lives; a world in which close to half of humanity had to live on less than 5,50 dollars a day. A world based on a twisted value system that has induced the unemployed and the marginalized into guilt and shame, turning anger into resignation.

  The worsening of the situation has begun to preoccupy the institutions. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have declared themselves seriously preoccupied by the risk of the increase in the global level of disparity due to the pandemic and its devastating consequences.

  Many Governments and supranational Institutions have had to stammer new answers to the unprecedented situation. Transformative policies, which seemed inconceivable before the crisis, have suddenly proved viable.

  It is apparent that, notwithstanding the declared intention of changing the model of development, these are sectorial policies, in the economic, social, healthcare, environmental and other fields, which try to “correct” the increasingly apparent errors of a crumbling system, with the aim to recompose it, if not to benefit from the chaos of the pandemic, so as to gain in terms of geopolitical standing.

  “Everything must change so that everything can stay the same”, as Tomasi di Lampedusa would say.[5]

  But, as Silo writes, “Only with the continuing failure of piecemeal solutions will we come to a new horizon of questioning and conditions that are adequate for a dialogue. It is then that these new ideas will gradually be recognized and that those sectors today most bereft of hope will begin to mobilise.”.[6]

  It is increasingly evident that the sectorial policies now under way are bound to fail. One needs but think of the shameful vaccine war now in full swing, blatantly prioritizing economic and political interests over human life. The pandemic has highlighted errors and falsity everywhere, starting with the lie according to which the free market would ensure health and healthcare assistance for everyone.

  Will the loss of trust in any possible improvement of the current situation, already exacerbated by the pandemic and the failure of the piecemeal answers implemented by the system, pave the way for a new vision of the world and social relationships, and start a mobilisation of the social base?

  In this regard, Arundhati Roy writes[7]:

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and our hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers, and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through it lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”[8]


  1.   A final consideration regards the impact of the pandemic on what we have called “the relationship between every human being and their soul”. The impact of the pandemic seems to have accelerated the decaying process of a world which, for ages, has been showing signs of inadequacy in answering human needs, on both the individual and community level.

In the difficult transaction between the world as we know it and the world to come, the human soul finds itself exposed to the winds of change and fluctuates in search of new points of reference.

Ortega y Gasset describes it as alma desilusionada, disappointed or disillusioned soul, the last stage of the cycle that he observes in three great historical communities: the European, the Greek and the Roman. “In each of these, man went through three different spiritual situations…From a state of traditional spirit to a state of rationalist spirit, and from this to a regime of mysticism.”[9]

  The cycle begins with the traditionalist soul, which finds in tradition, in the past, its point of reference and its rule; in the European Middle Ages, bourgeois and peasant movements did not aim to transform the political and social regime; rather, they limited themselves to pursuing the correction of an abuse without questioning the established regime. This is followed by the revolutionary soul, which substitutes tradition with reason, and elaborates ideas and ideologies, on the basis of which it rises not against the abuse of the regime, but against its use, that is against the regime itself. The failure of ideologies closes the revolutionary era, and the disillusioned soul follows the defeat of ideologies, the daring attempt to substitute reality with an idea, losing faith in both tradition and reason, and beginning to lift its gaze.

  The lack of faith, the disappointment, and the loss of hope make it necessary for individuals to change the direction of their gaze. Once the reference points of tradition and reason, religion and ideologies are lost, individuals find themselves alone.

“…the individual’s finding themselves alone brings them to confront the questions regarding human existence, independent of any one situation, and, therefore, beyond any relativism, and it induces them to broaden their horizons beyond the particularity of the nation, the tribe, the family, the company, to the universality of the question regarding one’s destiny, that each individual, insofar as they exist, cannot help but contemplate”.[10]

  But how to choose the new image of the world, the kind of society, the kind of economy, the values, the kind of interpersonal relationships, the kind of dialogue between every person and their neighbour?

  This questioning in search of what one really needs, having foregone the delusions once vainly pursued, gives each and every one access to the deepest aspirations guarded in the depth of their soul, to that religious feeling – from Latin re (an emphasizing prefix) and ligare (to tie) – which ties them to the fate of other human beings and the evolution of everything that is, and which is independent of any adherence to a specific religion.

They will then rise from resignation to stand as human beings, acknowledging the signs of the sacred within themselves, their creative and world-transformative attitude, awakening from its deep slumber the kind of spirituality which nurtures the highest aspirations of the human b


[1] L. Cici, Il Messaggio di Silo e la trasformazione del trasfondo psicosociale [Silo’s Message and the Transformation of the Psychosocial Instillation], 3rd International Symposium of the World Centre for Humanist Studies “Un nuovo Umanesimo per una Nuova Civilità”, Parks of Study and Reflection, Attigliano, 2-3-4 November 2012.

[2] Silo, Le condizioni del dialogo, in Silo, Opere Complete, vol. 1, Discorsi, p. 945, Multimage, Florence, June 2000, and, in digital format, Silo, The Conditions of Dialogue, “Silo.net”, www.silo.net/collected_works/silo_speaks.

[3] [Silo, ibid., p. 124 of the digital format].

[4] OXFAM (Oxford Committee for Famine Relief) is an international confederation of non-profit organisations dedicated to the reduction of global poverty, through humanitarian aid and development projects.

[5] Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Il Gattopardo [The Leopard], 1st ed. Feltrinelli, 1958.

[6] Silo, ivi.

[7] Arundhati Roy is an Indian writer and political activist in the field of human rights, environmental and anti-globalisation movements. In 1997, she won the Booker Prize with her debut novel, The God of Small Things.

[8] [Arundhati Roy, “The pandemic is a portal”, Financial Times, 03/04/2020, https://www.ft.com/content/10d8f5e8-74eb-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca].

[9] Ortega y Gasset, El caso de las revoluciones, in El tema de nuestro tiempo. Ed. Calpe, madrid, 1923.

[10] Aldo Masullo (1923-2020), Etica della salvezza, Intervista di Renato Parascandolo [“Ethics of Salvation”, an interview by Renato Parascandolo]. The interview is included in the videotaped work “Viaggio tra i filosofi”– Enciclopedia Multimediale delle Scienze Filosofiche, published by VideoSapere-Paravia.