Respond to Coronavirus With More Globalism | Opinion

COVID-19 is both destroyer and creator, unraveling one world and inviting us to create another. On the level of social, political and economic realities, it's revealing how much our entire system is like a house that's been built on wooden piles now rotting. Yet it's the very shock of that realization that interrupts the pattern of our complacency and calls us to reinvent ourselves. One way or the other, life on the other side of this will not be the same. Now is the time to conceive, articulate and start creating what we really want it to be.

When confronted with danger, the brain reacts in one of two ways: through constriction or through expansion. That applies to the collective as much as to the individual. We will either retreat into our separate selves or build new and more meaningful connections with each other that help heal and rebuild our world.

The path of nationalism is a path of nations closing in on themselves. The path of globalism is the path of nations rejecting separatism in favor of the only sustainable option for the human race.

Nationalism is a collective form of narcissism, a view of the world in which we see our country and our country only as the one that really matters. As a nation, we should never aspire to embody a characterological defect.

Globalism, on the other hand, is a political recognition that we are one human species, united by a common root system no differently than is a forest made of Aspen trees. The fundamental truth that we're one human family is essential to our sustainability—indeed, our survival—in the 21st century.

When I was a child, my father would open a giant atlas that sat in our family room. He'd point to geographical maps that displayed no borders between countries, just to make sure we gazed at the world as it was created. "See, kids?" he would say to us. "God didn't draw a line between France and Spain."

And neither does COVID-19.

COVID-19 is not just attacking Europe or the United States or Asia; it's attacking the world. Climate change is not just a problem for Africa or South America or India; it's a problem for the world. And the threat of a nuclear winter is not just a threat to any one part of the world; it's a threat to the entire human race.

Only through recognizing our global unity and the strengthening of institutions that can address, as a whole, the challenges to our species, will we be able to adequately meet those challenges. While separate nations have an important role to play in developing local solutions that are close to the ground, the coordination of such solutions in a way that responds to the global nature of international crises can only be accomplished through institutions equipped to address them in a unified way.

COVID-19 is powerful—and we have to be, too.

The United States would never have become a superpower if we had failed to develop a federal system; our strength lies in the fact that we're a unified republic. The Nazis would never have been defeated if every member of the Western alliance had been left to take on the Nazis by itself; the war was won through the coordinated efforts of the Allied forces. The idea that individual countries, each working alone, can rise to the level of power capable of taking on huge global challenges is preposterous.

Cultural and ethnic differences are important and shouldn't be minimized. In areas as diverse as art, philosophy, religion and even politics, they can provide a wonderful kaleidoscope of human expression. But when it comes to our safety, well-being and security, there is no more important evolutionary leap than to recognize that it's our unity, and not our diversity, that matters most. What threatens any of us threatens all of us.

United Nations in New York City
United Nations in New York City TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

From the United States to the United Nations, however imperfect that unity might be, we aspire to it for a reason. The idea that we should shrink from it is counter to the lessons of history—and of nature.

Every cell in the body collaborates with other cells to serve the healthy function of the organ of which they're part. When a cell disconnects from that collaborative relationship—going off to build its own separate kingdom—it's called cancer. And that's what has happened to the human race. We've been infected by a malignant thought: that it's all about me, and all about mine.

The dangers of tribalism and separatism are obvious, and so are the benefits of peaceful co-existence. The true danger lies in any failure to bolster international efforts to help us through COVID-19. Cooperation within the international scientific community provides our greatest hope for needed medical breakthroughs. And only the World Health Organization has the international connections to make all countries safer as the virus makes its run around the world. It's not a sacrifice of our national identities, but a glorification of them—to work collaboratively, rather than competitively, in the creation of a safer, more sustainable world.

I heard the Dalai Lama say that a British philosopher suggested every nation of the world should call every other nation its "domestic partner." Indeed, that's what we are on this precious, fragile, vulnerable planet today. We are joined in ways that invite us to a new understanding of ourselves in relation to each other and to our planet. From that understanding will arise a new and better world.

Marianne Williamson, a well-known author and spiritual leader, sought the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nomination.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.