Coronavirus: Generational shift? Historian sees virus encouraging new values

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The coronavirus pandemic could encourage a generation to turn away from a culture of selfishness, with young people now wanting to do jobs where they can help others, Dutch historian Rutger Bregman believes.

Bregman, 32, whose latest book “Humankind” argues that people are generally decent rather than evil, became famous last year when he told a wealthy audience at the Davis World Economic Forum that they should pay more tax.

In an interview with Reuters Television, Bregman said he sensed the virus crisis was showing that things are changing and there is “a shift in the Zeitgeist” for the younger generation.

“We are now moving into a different kind of era that is more about public service, about cooperation, about basically what’s decent,” he said.

Governments had published lists of essential professions in the crisis and this could have a huge impact on a whole generation, Bregman said.

“If you look at these lists, you’re like, where are the hedge fund managers? You know, where are the bankers, or the marketeers?”

He said it was clear who were doing the important jobs now –nurses, teachers, care workers, and journalists.

“I think we could see a real shift here, that now there could be a new generation, and I think we already see the early signs of this, of people who want to do a job where you actually help other people,” he said.

As for other post-pandemic changes, Bregman saw a decline in travel with people appreciating local values more, although global cooperation would be needed on climate change.

And after months of social distancing, would there be an end to the handshake and the hug?

“No, I don’t think you can ever kill the handshake or the hug, especially not the hug,” Bregman said. “People are hard-wired to connect with one another.”

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