Monday. 18/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

Polite society

Are we nicer than we thought? It’s an idea that I’ve pondered throughout the lockdown. From my north London balcony I’ve spotted a shift in attitudes from fear to acceptance. I’ve watched households get neighbourly, charted a son’s daily visits to his mother and even identified what I suspect to be a budding inter-household love affair in the offing: so far they’ve kept their distance across a picnic table but how long will that last?

The horror movie predictions about how humanity might act in adversity (the looting, eating each other or selling grandma for a pack of cigarettes) haven’t happened. Not yet, anyway. Instead, in my experience, people have been mostly cordial and kindly – if a little standoffish.

So, what’s next? And can some of this collective goodwill help us to glean a brighter future as the lockdowns lift? Will the world return to normal or can a gentle nudge now change the future for the better? These are the questions that we’ve put to 50 top thinkers in our radically rethought June issue of the magazine, which is out this week. We charged the canniest people we know – from philosopher Alain de Botton to chef Massimo Bottura, architect David Chipperfield and former ambassador Samantha Power – to augur the future of design, aviation, global affairs and more.

Rest assured, every one of their answers contains a sliver of the hope, humanity, humour and heart that I’ve witnessed firsthand from my humble balcony. Oh, and if you want to do something nice then do subscribe, or give a Monocle subscription to a friend, so you – or they – don’t miss an issue.

Health / Taiwan

Ill feeling

Today’s (virtual) meeting of the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO), is an opportunity for countries around the world to compare notes on tackling the coronavirus pandemic and chart a common way forward. And while some geopolitical squabbles have been set aside in the name of global health – officials from Japan, China and South Korea held a rare joint summit on Friday, for example – others have not. Taiwan will be conspicuously absent from today’s meeting as China refuses to countenance the participation of what it views as a renegade province. This is a shame as Taiwan has managed the pandemic better than most – and even has an epidemiologist serving as its vice-president. Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu put it succinctly in an interview for our June issue: “If Taiwan can share its experiences with other countries then I’m sure the world will be a much better place, and that is the reason we want to participate in the WHO.”

Finance / Global

Trading places

Even before the pandemic it was clear that global trade was in need of a reboot as spats over tariffs and outdated free-trade deals dominated the political landscape. And while much of this could be blamed on national governments, the operations of international bodies such as the World Trade Organization were also frustrated. Last week, in a surprise move, Brazilian diplomat Roberto Azevêdo (pictured) announced that he will be stepping down as director general of the WTO on 31 August, one year before the scheduled end of his eight-year term. He says that his decision was partly based on a desire to allow someone new to determine the future of global trade in the post-pandemic world. But in one of the last interviews he gave as director general, featured in Monocle’s June issue, Azevêdo offered a parting shot, calling on nations to remain outward-facing and not make self-sufficiency a goal in itself. It’ll be the job of the new WTO chief to ensure his words are heeded.

Design / China

Double trouble

For design enthusiasts across China, visiting the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe (or at least versions of them) has always been easy thanks to countless replicas across the country, such as those at Tianducheng in Hangzhou (pictured). But opportunities to visit copies of newer architectural landmarks will now be limited after the Chinese government “strictly prohibited” any further plagiarism of iconic buildings. Replicas of western architecture began to appear in the country as its economy boomed in the late 20th century. And while this new decree can be seen as a vote of confidence in China’s own contemporary vernacular, it’s worth noting the role that copycat architecture played in establishing that identity: it allowed designers and the public to appreciate the scale, form and utility of famous buildings. Architects in China shouldn’t forget these lessons but rather use them to inform new architectural wonders of their own.

Arts / UK

Stimulus package

Although the current situation might appear to be a kind of paradise for home-working artists and creatives, free time does not always equal productive time – especially if spiralling concerns about health and finances take their toll on wellbeing. Enter a new initiative dubbed “Thinking Time”, launched by the London-based organisation Artangel. Through a combination of financial support and mentoring, the programme aims to turn this potentially fallow period into a useful creative phase for selected early-career artists such as Dominique White (“Ruttier for the Absent”, 2019, pictured) to pursue their ideas. “Making creative things is an emotional commitment,” says electronic music artist Beatrice Dillon, another participant, whose global tour to promote her latest album has been suspended. “Just because you have free space in your diary doesn’t mean to say that the conditions are right – the sadness of what’s going on is present.” Perhaps the Artangel scheme can serve as one way of pointing to a brighter future.

M24 / Eureka

Oxwash

Oxford-based Kyle Grant launched Oxwash in 2017 while a PhD student. Claiming to be the world’s first sustainable laundry company, Oxwash uses new technology to clean and disinfect at lower temperatures, use less water and filter out microfibres. The company recently announced a €1.6m investment to help it expand.

Monocle Films / Global

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