Thought-provoking stories at the intersection of faith and critical global challenges, found in our bi-monthly Global Briefings

 


Burned-out millennials from U.S. to China

As the U.S. and China amp up global competition, millennials in both countries and beyond may be growing weary of the endless race for achievement. A New Yorker article on burnout as the new condition quotes the 2020 book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation that, “increasingly among [U.S.] millennials... burnout isn’t just a temporary affliction. It’s our contemporary condition.” In China, a 2020 video went viral of a university student riding his bike at night while working on a laptop perched on the handlebars. Public reaction described a new condition and one of the most commonly used Chinese words of 2020 – involution (see “China’s ‘Involuted’ Generation”) – described by one Chinese anthropologist as “the experience of being locked in competition that one ultimately knows is meaningless” and becomes an “endless cycle of self-flagellation.” Despite prosperity in nearby South Korea, young people there are known as the “seven-give-up generation,” believing they will never find love, marriage, childbirth, human relations, homeownership, personal dreams and hope. In his 2015 book, the Korean-born, Germany-based philosopher Byung-Chan Han calls the burnout society the “signature affliction” of this age. One sign of resistance from young Chinese feeling beat up by society: a new “tang ping” or “lying flat” trend of not overworking and being content with more attainable achievements, which has met governmental opposition in the drive for self-reliant, global advancement. One reviewer writes that philosopher Han provides another alternative, “the God of the Sabbath - the holy day on which we are invited not to achieve, not to produce, but to stop. It's a day not to. It's an interval in which uselessness and idleness are celebrated. We can be tired on the Sabbath, a tiredness that Han concludes is a blessing because yielding to it precipitates peace and calm.

(Recommended reading from our July 2021 Global Briefing)

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Moral Persuasion and the Intractable Israeli-Palestinian Problem

Is moral persuasion the only way forward to resolve the 73-year conflict between Palestinians and Israelis? Political commentator Fareed Zakaria contends that Israel is now the Middle East superpower and “doesn’t have any practical reasons to make a deal with the Palestinians.” Sri Lankan public intellectual Vinoth Ramachandra adds that “Israel is the last remaining European colonial power” somehow able to be “the only country in the world that does not have internationally recognized borders.” If no political or security resolution is possible, what then? “It can only be resolved through moral persuasion,” writes Zakaria, calling for Israel to live into a greater mission: “The only hope—and right now it looks remote—is that those forces will gain strength and one day lead the country to give the Palestinians a state of their own. That would finally fulfill Israel’s historical mission to be, in the words of Isaiah, ‘a light unto the nations.’” In a similar vein, Jewish American journalist Peter Beinart, calling for Palestinians to be granted the right of return to homes they were driven from, writes: “There is a Hebrew word … Teshuvah, which is generally translated as ‘repentance.’ Ironically enough, however, its literal definition is ‘return.’ In Jewish tradition, return need not be physical; it can also be ethical and spiritual. Which means that the return of Palestinian refugees—far from necessitating Jewish exile—could be a kind of return for us as well, a return to traditions of memory and justice that the Nakba [or “catastrophe,” used to describe the Palestinian displacement] has evicted from organized Jewish life.” Yet a New York Times columnist – noting a rash of anti-Jewish attacks and harassment in the U.S., London, and Brussels (Germany also has disturbing signs) – contends that pro-Palestinian progressives “will have to come to their own reckoning about what to do about the burgeoning anti-Semitism in their midst.” At the same time, Ramachandra notes that there “are also courageous rabbis and human rights activists within Israel who are opposed to the abuses heaped on the Palestinian people by the Israeli army and right-wing Jewish colonists.”

(Recommended reading from our July 2021 Global Briefing)

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Why some vaccines (and vaccinated people) get warp speed and others don’t

“The idea that private ingenuity and naked competition produced the [successful COVID-19] vaccines is a complete fantasy,” contends David Whyte at the University of Liverpool. Earlier coronavirus diseases SARS and MERS – costly for the East Asian economy – had no vaccine, and it took 16 years to approve the Ebola vaccine, an epidemic estimated to cost West African countries more than 50 billion dollars. Pharmaceutical companies “follow the money,” he says. “Previous viruses did not threaten the economy of the developed countries to the same extent.” Yet “most advanced economies stand to lose at least 4.5% of GDP as a result of this pandemic. So we needed COVID-19 vaccines to save these economies.” In addition to nationalist economics, says Whyte, the use of public funds shaped the response to the virus, writing that research and development and direct subsidies “were mobilized on an enormous scale” for COVID-19 vaccines. “Governments used public funds to place huge advance orders for vaccines that removed all market risk from future sales… This investment will, of course, be followed by unprecedented profits.” One hidden cost pharmaceutical companies did not pay for is an “infrastructure that produced the COVID-19 vaccines [which] was nurtured in publicly funded universities, in public institutes and heavily subsidized private labs.” How does what Whyte calls this “knowledge that we hold in common,” yet benefitting only the privileged, speak to the disturbing fact that 75% of global vaccine supply is now held by 10 countries while 99 percent of people in low-income countries have not received a single dose? Sri Lankan writer Vinoth Ramachandra, citing the words of early church father Basil of Caesarea (“That bread which you keep belongs to the hungry”), writes that “Christian theology has long held that the right to life trumps the right to private property. If I have food or life-saving drugs in my home that I don’t need for my survival, yet my poor neighbor is starving or seriously ill, then if the latter were to break into my home to take what he needs for his survival it is not an act of theft. Rather, it is I who am guilty of theft by withholding it from him.” With others, on July 20 the MCC Washington Office organized a global interfaith prayer service advocating for vaccine equity.

(Recommended reading from our July 2021 Global Briefing)

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Wrestling with roots of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict 

For a dive beneath the escalating Palestine-Israel conflict into root causes, see this Associated Press explainer and a brief history in this VOX video. MCC has been present in the land since 1949, and this 15-page MCC Frequently Asked Questions booklet has sections including recent history and what the Bible says about Palestine and Israel. To go in-depth, see Inhabiting the Land, a short book by Alain Epp Weaver, who worked with MCC in Palestine for over a decade. The question of how to describe the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is crucial and contested. The UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice consider the occupation a serious violation of human rights and international law. Yet violations are often not criticized by the U.S., which blocks UN Security Council statements on Israel in ways similar to China on Xinjiang and Syria. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu of South Africa recently declared a moral responsibility to intervene with the European Union, United Kingdom, and USA, “all of which have consistently provided military support and diplomatic cover for Israel’s violations of international law.” 2021 reports from two leading human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch and the Israeli agency B'tselem, contend that Israel’s discriminatory policies have crossed a threshold that meets the United Nations definition of apartheid. It is also important to recognize the alarming rise in antisemitism in the world, noted in January by the UN Secretary General. The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism provides guidelines to identify and oppose antisemitism while protecting free expression and supporting justice for the Palestinian people and lasting peace for all. Finally, a glimmer of light amid the inter-communal violence, a Times of Israel article about Jews and Palestinians pushing back peacefully.   

(Recommended reading from our May 2021 Global Briefing)

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The problem is not government but bad government 

Israeli historian and bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari writes in Financial Times of startling technological and scientific progress (such as the COVID-19 vaccine) during the pandemic. But he contends that “science cannot replace politics,” citing examples of bad political decisions and mismanagement and three lessons for the future. Similarly, Yascha Mounk of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change argues that “populism has proven lethal” and “the longer the pandemic has dragged on, the more the quality of governance has turned out to matter.” One proposal for a better kind of politics comes from two authors at Foreign Affairs magazine. While rivalry today between powerful nations often results in multi-lateral paralysis, they argue for “microlaterialism.” Why not let small countries take the lead in international relations? “Drawing on smaller nations’ particular strengths – Scandinavian countries’ long history of conflict mediation, for instance, or Jordan’s experience dealing with extremist groups – allows for a productive division of labor that combines deep expertise with the kinds of resources that larger, more influential countries bring to the table.” They cite Estonia on digital governance and Costa Rica on conservation. 

(Recommended reading from our May 2021 Global Briefing)

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Myanmar military rule: Unprecedented resistance, but in danger of being normalized

The military junta’s February 2021 overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, was followed by intense repression (see “what is happening on the ground” here). But resistance has been unprecedented, widely supported, spearheaded by brave youth (with women and girls central to the movement), and one that Myanmar journalist Zwe Mahn says could remake future society for the better. Indeed, writes Thant Myint-U, author of The Hidden History of Burma, “Over recent months, a new generation of leaders have come to the fore and many have rejected the ethno-nationalism at the heart of Myanmar politics, seeking fresh alliances across racial, ethnic and religious divides.” Yet the economic and health care system has collapsed and 3.4 million people may face hunger in coming months. While Mahn writes that the “battle is lopsided,” yet “with action from international community is winnable,” in “No One Is Saving Myanmar,” Atlantic writer Timothy McLaughlin writes that foreign governments and “organizations such as the UN have been left looking ineffectual and paralyzed by inaction.” Two authors from the Center for Strategic and International Studies write that “[The military] has set the country down a violent path toward either revolution, repression, or collapse. The people of Myanmar have overwhelmingly chosen resistance.” Alarmingly, Myanmar is already fading from global headlines, and former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee warns that “there is a dangerous sense that the coup is becoming normalized, even accepted, as the new status quo.” We have seen this happen between the two Koreas over 70 years of division, over ten years of civil war in Syria, and recently between China mainland and Hong Kong: division or absorption by violence is viewed first as unacceptable, then tragic, then inevitable, then normal. Where are the international leaders with sufficient courage and influence to declare otherwise, and act accordingly? 

(Recommended reading from our May 2021 Global Briefing)

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How is the January 6, 2021 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol an opportunity to learn from other contexts?  

Two authors who worked on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda draw parallels to Rwanda where, through hate speech and disinformation, “the seeds of genocide were planted by the media in the years leading up to the explosion of violence.” Public speech has consequences in mobilizing fear and anger, they say, and early warning signs must be taken seriously. Another parallel is South Korea, where in 2017 a crowd of supporters of President Park Geun-hye stormed the presidential grounds after she was removed from office. Since then, while contentious, there have been attempts to address a “cozy relationship between large corporations and the government” and certain media groups which “increasingly resembled an entrenched disinformation campaign.” Misinformation, Disinformation, Fake News: Why Do We Care? from the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations is an in-depth resource which explains the differences between disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation, which collectively pose a global challenge of “information disorder.” It includes biblical commentary and a “What can I do?” section including how to create a list of trusted sources. Also see Social-Media Algorithms Rule How We See the World for exactly how Facebook and Twitter pose a danger. 

(Recommended reading from our March 2021 Global Briefing)

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What the COVID vaccine tells us about holding together innovation and ethics 

From the COVID vaccine to the internet, artificial limbs to satellites, many of the biggest technological breakthroughs in recent history have not sprung from the private sector, but from collaboration between federal governments, business, and science. One economics correspondent writes that while free market economies can make huge contributions, they come up short in solving enormous problems. And How Science Beat the Virus (and What It Lost in the Process) discusses both the contribution and the “all-too human frailties of the scientific enterprise.” Big global challenges like climate change, too, will depend on public-private partnerships. Yet these authors overlook the critical role of ethical knowledge from civil society, as seen in Reading While Black author and Anglican priest Esau Mccaulley’s writing of Martin Luther King, Jr. going beyond preaching for justice to work for policy change to address structural disempowerment. The warning, given the problem of vaccine inequality: technological innovation also needs moral imagination.

(Recommended reading from our March 2021 Global Briefing)

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Will the poorest be trampled in the vaccine stampede?
Rich nations representing just 14 percent of the world’s population have bought up 53 percent of all the most promising vaccines so far. Facing the problem of “vaccine nationalism,” growing numbers of charities and churches contend there is a moral responsibility for vaccines to be shared far and wide, to the neediest first, and there is a campaign for a People’s Vaccine. “No one should be blocked from getting a life-saving vaccine because of the country they live in or the amount of money in their pocket,” says one leader. “But unless something changes dramatically, billions of people around the world will not receive a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 for years to come.” See an in-depth analysis of the problem, a country-by-country chart of the vaccine supply problem, and Scientific American on how to distribute a COVID vaccine ethically.

(Recommended reading from our January 2021 Global Briefing)

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Winning the war on false and divisive information
An anti-fake news initiative launched by Finland’s government is aimed at teaching residents, students, journalists and politicians how to counter false information designed to sow division. To prepare citizens of all ages for the complex digital landscape of today, says one expert, “The first line of defense is the kindergarten teacher.” What Finland is learning may be crucial for all of us. 

(Recommended reading from our January 2021 Global Briefing)

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“Neighbors without borders”
Read about Pope Francis’ new encyclical, where he warns that the world is fast losing its sense of the oneness of the human family. In a post-pandemic world, the pope says the Good Samaritan story should move us to action as “neighbors without borders,” each day deciding “whether to be Good Samaritans or indifferent bystanders.” The pope calls for a better kind of politics across the world that confronts narrow nationalism, digital misinformation, the corrosion of civility, and favoring the rich and powerful: “The decision to include or exclude those lying wounded along the roadside can serve as a criterion for judging every economic, political, social and religious project.”  

(Recommended reading from our January 2021 Global Briefing)

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