Homo sapiens is the main predator of nature and its peers. For the sake of progress, our species has polluted seas, air, and land, destroyed ancient forests, overexploited natural resources and is currently doing everything possible to destroy the Amazon basin, one of the main sources of oxygen, that regulates the climate of the region and neutralizes the greenhouse effect. Under the flags of religion, or of God, of superiority of race or of ideologies, human beings have killed themselves in horrific wars, after which they plead mea culpa only to repeat them with greater fury, perfecting the means of destruction to achieve an even greater number of victims.
The last century was rich in scientific discoveries that have improved and lengthened life. Capitalism was universalized and hence were traditional values such as family, work, religion, education, consumption, or economic success. The 20th century was also generous in natural and/or human-caused disasters, which contributed to changing social and cultural patterns. Atomic weapons were developed, and two bombs showed their effectiveness in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Pandemics have accompanied us throughout history. The "Black Death" in the 14th century reduced the European population from 80 to 30 million people.
The misnamed "Spanish flu" left around 50 million dead. It was brought to Europe by US-soldiers at the end of the First World War (1914-1918) and given that name because the information was delivered from Spain, a neutral country in that war. AIDS has left, since its appearance in 1981, around 35 million dead. Homo sapiens caused great famines in China, the Soviet Union, in Ethiopia, the Sahel or Biafra, with millions of victims. The two World Wars eliminated around 90 million people. The Vietnam War that covered Laos and Cambodia, 1.5 million. The genocides of the Armenians committed by the Turks, the Jewish by the Nazis, the Cambodians by Pol Pot, the Soviets by Stalin, or the Tutsis by the Hutus in Nigeria, add about 10 million more victims.
There are countless tragedies triggered by human action, and pages would be missing to list them in the history of the last century, including the dreams and disappointments of failed revolutions. All this has contributed to shaping what we are today and the way of life that we have built. The social response, with more or less intensity, has also been produced in culture, understood as the material and spiritual way of life of a society. Traditional forms of behavior tend to be eroded by human development or actions. They affect the way of life, art, literature, music, or even fashion. Great convulsions have generated the so-called counterculture, that is, the reaction or opposition to the dominant culture. The term was coined in the 1960s in the United States, by Theodore Roszak, in response to individualism, consumerism, authoritarianism and the Vietnam war.
In the last century, the most well-known forms were the Dada movement, which emerged after the First World War, the so-called beatniks in the 1950s, or the hippies, which appeared in the 1960s with the anti-war pacifist movement in Southeast Asia. All of them have their expression in different forms ranging from art to philosophy, opening new paths, expanding individual freedom, legitimizing spaces for gender, sexual or drug use diversity, challenging traditional life patterns.
COVID-19, which devastates the planet and of which we do not know when or how it will end, probably influences new forms of human coexistence. It will hardly end capitalism, as some predict, but it is likely that it will contribute to reinforcing the role of the State. We do not know yet whether we will our own change habits deeply rooted in our social behavior. No one doubts that a major economic crisis will hit even more countries; not equally, of course, but all of us will all be affected. And if the material base conditions the superstructure, as Marx points out, then we are likely to face changes that we cannot now dimension. Work, studies, and leisure are being modified and we don’t know what the consequences this will have.
Economic crises stimulate nationalisms, invite to close borders, to raise tariffs, to blame others who are different by race, color, religion, or culture. But new forms of counterculture could also emerge. Unlike in the 20th century, today communications are instantaneous thanks to the billions of cell phones on the planet. The pandemic coincides with the exhaustion of the current international system as we know it, with the lack of global leadership by countries and politicians. We are facing a world without a collective response, not only to the pandemic but to the challenges of climate change, which already has us on the brink of catastrophe.
The reduction of spaces for international cooperation, the blatant arms race, the lack of ethics by the countries that produce and sell arms, the inability to end local wars, the millions of people living in poverty along with those who suffer from hunger and abandonment. All this should generate a countercultural movement that, unlike the previous ones, this time may be global as a consequence of the communications revolution. Opposing the destruction of the planet and human civilization may be the primary task of the current and next generation.