What does not kill us makes us stronger?
The COVID-19 crisis has touched all of us on many levels of our lives: it has threatened our health situation, it has changed our private lives, our relations with friends and family, our work and our perspective on the future. I have not seen many of my best friends for more than a year, I have lost touch with many colleagues and, at the same time, I have been incredibly productive in my work. The crisis has narrowed down our lives which can sometimes be pleasant but is certainly not a promising venue since it undermines the essence of social life.
As an academic with a preference for pragmatism, this crisis has inspired me to act but it has also increased my worries about the future of our societies and our planet. I am convinced that we will find a way to deal with the crisis, but I am not so sure that, as Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, ‘what does not kill us makes us stronger’. It sounds great and makes for good song lyrics but, in reality, what does not kill us may undermine our democratic and open societies.
Many of these worries are presented in this issue of Public Note. The affaire with the alleged tax fraud is a very important wake up call for all academics in the field of public administration: building legitimate organizations is crucial since government bureaucracies can be tools that inflict enormous damage in people’s lives (see: Andriessen, 2021: ‘Er was eens een toeslagenaffaire’). Press repression in democracies is a worrying phenomenon, discussed in this issue (see: Bendiner, 2021: ‘Press Repression Across the Regime Spectrum’). Finally, the role of multinational corporations in sustainability governance (Walsh, 2021: ‘Corporate Clout’), the use of the English language in Dutch universities (see: Blom, 2021: ‘Engelse taal op de Universiteit. Geen eenduidig positieve ontwikkeling.’), the ripple effect of the Dutch euthanasia policy (see Chen, Tamo, Xia, Hanoeman & Karssies, 2021: ‘Policy Diffusion and Euthanasia Policy in the COVID Era: on the potential ripple effects of the Dutch Completed Life debate’) and the ties between the Netherlands and Suriname (see: Van der Woerd & Soekhai, 2021: ‘Rethinking Suriname-Dutch Ties in Uncertain Times’) are problems, but also solutions, discussed in this issue of Public Note.
I am worried but I do think there are also promising perspectives and initiatives arising in many different places. The actions of President Biden in the US point at a very different direction for societal development towards more democratic, inclusive, and sustainable forms of governance. There are initiatives worldwide to strengthen democracy as to give citizens more power over public affairs and to enhance the inclusiveness of our societies (see: Renkema, 2021 ‘Representativeness of the Australian Public Service: The case for Anonymous Application Procedures’).
For academics, I think the key task is not only to contribute to instrumental approaches to strategies for dealing with the COVID-19 crisis but to raise the difficult questions. What does not kill us does not automatically make us stronger. I would even argue the opposite: the crisis can be used by various economic and state powers to further establish their position and develop forms of state-sponsored capitalism that hollow out democratic societies. Strong academic reflections are needed to help to reframe societal understandings of the world and to open up debate for positive transformation in the direction of open, inclusive and sustainable societies. This is the moment for all of us to act and make a difference!