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Can Humanity Grow Up?

Summary:
With rapid globalization and technological innovation have come profound new risks not just to individuals and countries, but to humanity's survival. The current stage in our history demands an entirely new ethical perspective, one that requires an ability to think in species-level terms. OXFORD – The COVID-19 pandemic underscores just how tightly interwoven humanity has become. A single infected animal somewhere in China set in motion a chain reaction with effects that, nearly a year later, are still reverberating in every corner of the planet. The US Election’s Chaos Quotient J. Countess/Getty Images Civil

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With rapid globalization and technological innovation have come profound new risks not just to individuals and countries, but to humanity's survival. The current stage in our history demands an entirely new ethical perspective, one that requires an ability to think in species-level terms.

OXFORD – The COVID-19 pandemic underscores just how tightly interwoven humanity has become. A single infected animal somewhere in China set in motion a chain reaction with effects that, nearly a year later, are still reverberating in every corner of the planet.

This should not be particularly surprising. The history of pandemics tracks our unification as a species. The Black Death traveled on new trade routes forged between Europe and Asia in the Middle Ages. Smallpox crossed the Atlantic Ocean with the Europeans, devastating the Americas. And the 1918 influenza pandemic reached six continents in just months, owing to technological advances in moving goods and people. Each time humanity takes bold steps toward deeper integration, disease follows.

This has yielded profound benefits. We pool our knowledge, innovation, and technology. We share in the rich traditions of each other’s cultures. We cooperate across vast distances, working together on projects too great for any individual, or country, to complete on their own – such as eradicating smallpox from the face of the Earth.

But our interconnectedness also brings profound costs. We share not only our greatest knowledge and culture, but our greatest risks. We may go decades without seeing it, but...

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