Besides the seasoned sea farers in the Vendée-Globe race, we all seek guidance and reassurance when the sea is rough, and we are far from a safe harbor. It may be a question of economy or even survival, depending on how well we're prepared for the journey. We need a lighthouse to show us the way, to confirm that we are not alone and to enlighten the world around us.
We at Louvain School of Management strives to be one of these lighthouses, providing a relentless beam of light to the world around us, guiding towards a safe and sustainable future and reassuring about.
Late January, there is some light at the horizon after a long and tiresome odyssey since March. In particular, the return in office of a real statesman in the White House provided us with a ray of hope for the world at large.
A highly serious sign of the state of affairs occurred January 6 in Washington DC. As Europeans, we recognize well the method: a charismatic and paranoid leader iterating an emotional and irrational message, promising the resurrection of a lost imaginary glorious past by diabolizing the Other, defined as anyone not aligned with the cause. A mixed crowd of followers, reinforced with a loosely disciplined armed militia only loyal to the leader, are enthusiastically applying political pressure and violence needed to obtain their objectives. The subsequent looting and rioting are met with a lame and indecisive response from law enforcement, stuck in a conflict of allegiance between the Leader and the constitutional institutions they are set to defend. It never ends well when the rituals of democracy are exploited by those arrogantly trampling its essential nature: respect for all citizens and their rights. However, what is even more troubling is that the population does not even share a common narrative of events. Fed by conspiracy theories, rumors and repeated lies, the followers dismiss the mayhem as the work of the Others or simply “fake news”. Reason, fact and truth in the real world become arguments, opinions and emotions to be supplied by those with an easy answer. This is not limited to the USA, it is infiltrating the news, internet and the public sphere also in Europe. Once the damage is done, the trust and confidence in our institutions, interactions and fellow citizens will be gone.
As Keepers of the Lighthouse, we cannot silently accept a malicious lantern set to mislead seamen to dangerous reefs. The sea will not calm when COVID-19 is gone: another storm is waiting in form of a deep economic recession with socio-economic consequences that will shake our institutions, markets and families. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis part of the population will be disoriented and tempted by simple answers and explanations to hard societal problems. It is exactly in these times the community of LSM must stand by the values of openness, rationality and respect for the democratic institutions. We must also continue even more to offer our support and expertise when relevant to the public society to strengthen decision making and financing. We should also pin down meticulously the lies and rumors that surface in the debate, not to create the myths of today that become the truths of tomorrow.
Finally, a word of appreciation: our community in Louvain School of Management, students, faculty, researchers, staff, alumni and partners, has been shown an immense resilience during the last 10 months of the pandemic. Now in January, we are all tremendously tired of this virus. Really.
Why should we then be the Keepers of the Lighthouse, at a time when we feel just as lost? Because nothing makes a sacrifice more worth than caring for those that are vulnerable and fear for their lives and to assure that our society will ride out the storm safely. It will not be an easy Spring, but together we will do it!
Per J. Agrell
Dean of the Faculty