Humankind can take heart that the worst predictions for doom and gloom did not come to pass in 2020, though neither did the most optimistic of forecasts. This leaves us with a simpler hope for the world after Corona.
In a nutshell
- Humankind is resilient and has coped with the Corona crisis
- For the most part, our systems did not collapse
- A return to normalcy is already on the horizon
The GIS New Opportunities 2021 series concludes with an essay from Dr. Svyatoslav Kaspe on hope for the future.
Reasons for hope after Corona seem few and far between these days. But looking for them is worth a try. They can be found, of course, but not for any new, revolutionary reason. Nor will the hope be grand, but instead, humble. It is no launching pad for a great endeavor, instead it will be just enough, perhaps, to save us from despair.
At the beginning of 2020, it became clear that in Covid-19, humankind had encountered an unprecedented challenge, at least for current generations. A torrent of forecasts followed – some were positive, some negative. Many were extreme.
Hell on earth
Prophecies of doom and gloom abounded. Healthcare systems would collapse under the weight of the challenge. Corpses would pile up. Production and supply chains would disintegrate, bringing the global economy to a standstill. Grocery shelves would go bare, followed by hunger, destitution, the very fall of society. Toilet paper shortages were the harbinger of the apocalypse.
With food in short supply, the next step would be violence on a large scale. As wars raged, culture and academia would be gutted: schools, universities, museums, theaters and libraries would empty out, just as bars and restaurants did.
Some predicted that populist leaders would sweep away the last vestiges of democracy.
Some predicted that populist leaders would ride the crest of this wave of barbarism to finally sweep away the last vestiges of democratic liberalism. Others worried that it would be the haughty elites who would use the pandemic as a pretext to trample on the remains of democratic freedoms and institutions, suppressing the dissent of the lower classes and silencing the politically marginalized.
Others argued China would take over, after having purposefully unleashed the deadly virus from its secret labs. There was no shortage of kooky prophecies: the reptilians were coming to take over, even the antichrist! After all, the pestilence, closing of churches, digital monitoring, forehead thermometers, blanket testing, forced vaccination, microchip implants and 5G networks were all mentioned in the Book of Revelation, were they not?
Heaven on earth
Still others claimed that Covid-19 was mother nature’s revenge for her mistreatment, and that finally humans would realize the error of their polluting ways. As we cleansed the land, air and seas of our poisons, endangered species would make a comeback. As people scaled back their consumerist demands, a modest universal basic income would satisfy everyone’s needs.
Not only that, but to meet this global challenge, international cooperation would prosper. Wars and conflicts would cease, since we were all fighting a common enemy. Not only would the cynical populists and the haughty elites fall, so too, would the autocracies.
The dawn of a new democracy was upon us. Its initial outlines were already being sketched by Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement and other similar campaigns. With all the former leaders swept aside, it was unclear exactly who the new leaders would be – but that was a bridge we could cross when we came to it.
The main outcome of the past year is that none of these predictions have come to pass. Though our doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are exhausted, they have managed admirably. The hospitals are overextended, but coping. The pharmaceutical companies have developed vaccines with record speed and effectiveness.
The global economy, having taken a powerful punch to the gut, is down, but not out. The industries hardest-hit by the pandemic – aviation, hospitality, gastronomy and entertainment among them – have suffered greatly, but have not disappeared. Whenever possible, firms in these sectors have gotten right back on their feet as soon as they have been allowed to resume business. Though many have failed, others have quickly taken their place.
Even the toilet paper is back on the shelves.
Demand for the arts and culture has grown, not receded – and they are being consumed through new channels. Poverty and hunger have not overtaken our societies. Even the toilet paper is back on the shelves.
While the pandemic did not lead to world peace, it also did not bring about World War III. The cynical populists, the haughty elites and the autocrats mostly remain in power where they were at the start of the pandemic. But while Donald Trump lost the presidential election in the United States, we should be wary – there are signs that Joe Biden could turn out to be even more populist than his predecessor.
There was no great takeover of the world – not by China or the reptilians. The heavens did not recede like a scroll being rolled up, nor were the mountains and islands moved from their places, as in Revelation 6:14.
On the other hand, nothing especially joyous happened, either. Humankind did not reconcile with nature. The land, air and seas have not become pure. The birds and beasts remain threatened by human activity. People did not rein in their needs. If anything, their demands grew – witness the increase in drinking and comfort eating.
The United Nations and other supranational organizations, including the European Union, remain just as flawed as they were before. No new democracy has dawned, and we are doomed to suffer the foibles of the old versions, which, to their credit, have held up in the face of difficulties presented by the pandemic.
Those who claimed that the world would never be the same were wrong.
Those who claimed – in rapture or aghast – that the world would never be the same were wrong. It will. Or to be more precise, the world will continue to change. Even in living memory, people have faced similar crises. As it is written in Ecclesiastes, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.”
As a system, humankind seems extraordinarily resilient. There is little that can really throw it off. Its separate subsystems – economics, politics or culture, for example – are adept at absorbing shocks. Upheavals – like steam- or electricity-powered technology, revolution, world wars, chemical or nuclear weapons, space exploration, the internet, AIDS or Covid-19 – cannot easily rock this stability. Such is human nature.
In Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita, Satan pays a visit to Stalinist Moscow of the 1930s, conducts several social and psychological experiments on Soviet people, and then says pensively: “Well, now … they’re people like any other people… They love money, but that has always been so… Mankind loves money, whatever it’s made of – leather, paper, bronze, gold. Well, they’re light-minded… well, what of it… mercy sometimes knocks at their hearts… ordinary people… In general, reminiscent of the former ones… only the housing problem has corrupted them…”
Replace “the housing problem” with “the coronavirus,” and you have a summary of 2020.
So, where is the source of hope? Well, that all depends on what you are hoping for. Some will see more time to find redemption, others to indulge in hedonistic pleasures. Yet the former will sometimes transgress, and the latter will at times be virtuous. We will have the chance to keep living our lives – not in any coronavirus-created heaven or hell, but on the same old Earth.
Our lives will continue to include joy and suffering, health and sickness, wealth and poverty, freedom and bondage, love and hate, valor and depravity, virtue and vice – and, ultimately, good and evil. It may not be much, but a humble hope for a return to normalcy is a hope nonetheless. And it is all we have to work with.
Great new beginnings will probably have to wait – the pandemic has indeed curbed them. Perhaps humankind would be better off on a break from such endeavors. Turning to introspection, using the loneliness, isolation and disconnection of the quarantine to contemplate our own nature is something we have needed to do for quite a while.