Six months ago, for my last post of 2019, I posted about the unknowability of the future, about the fact that almost every moment of life brings the unexpected, despite that we’ve somehow conditioned ourselves into thinking that our lives are mapped out, predictable, and that very little changes, ever.
I tried of come into this year open and purposely sensitized to this constant precipitation of newness into my life. And while I think I did an okay job of it, have my expectations ever been overwhelmed! Never could I have imagined the degree to which 2020 would upset every aspect of Normal. One of the most surprising things about this upset is that as much as it has operated in my personal life, that part is dwarfed by the transformations that are occurring in the world around me.
I could never have foreseen that the entire world would react almost in tandem to a viral threat of COVID. I could never have imagined that entire economies would be shut down for the preservation of life – not in this capitalist environment! And I’d never have believed that a handful of police murders such as has afflicted minority populations throughout the history of America would send people into the streets worldwide and be a catalyst for change in financial, political and social institutions across the country.
And now I find myself wondering if this is merely the tip of an iceberg. Yes, we’re about to enter 2020 – Act II, and it could be a doozy! I’m not much a believer in conspiracy theories. And with all my belief in the unexpected, I would never claim the gift of prediction. But I do have thoughts about forces that may be at play, lines of dominoes that may topple, and possibilities to at least be aware of. Here are a few of them:
How will the world respond to the 2nd and 3rd waves of Covid – let alone to the next viral surprise, in two, five or ten years? Could we ever experience another intentional shut-down on the scale of what we’ve just experienced? And if those waves or the next virus do materialize, and we don’t shut down, what then?
One way to look at the shake-up of the economy in recent months is to see it as an unveiling of the mind-game that economies are. Haven’t we all be trained to think of the economy as very fragile, and of the absolute necessity of constant spending and growth in order to prevent collapse? And yet, the governments of the US and Canada have been able to crank out billions of dollars to individuals and companies to keep them afloat and to keep people contentedly at home. I don’t claim to understand all of the long-term ramifications of these actions, and I don’t doubt that they are serious. But one of two things must follow: Either the economy does collapse and we enter a period of chaos, or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, this is evidence that economies can have a lot more flexibility than we’ve been led to believe. Yes, wealth can be redistributed. Yes, vast sums can be spent to feed and house people when these are accepted as priorities. Which means that we could eliminate poverty, have truly excellent schools, hospitals and nursing homes. If only we reset our priorities – as COVID has forced us to – and marshal the will.
One of my biggest-picture concerns is about the continuing concentration of power and wealth in fewer and fewer hands. A good friend of mine firmly believes that we are about to experience a rapid shift in worldwide financial institutions away from actual currencies to digital currencies, as in Bitcoin. Among other things, this could obliterate the dollar’s dominance and it would likely concentrate wealth even further. With China possibly leading the way.
What about global, political power? America has been dominant for a solid century now. It ascended to that position pretty quickly, following the upheaval that was World War I, And it’s place of dominance could end as suddenly as did that of the Soviet Union thirty years ago. Many expect that China will be the next dominant world power. I wonder what China makes of the disorder that prevails in the U.S. these days – failing at managing COVID and engaged in intense self-scrutiny dues to the police murders and the reactions. Given Trump’s success at eroding internal confidence in almost every national institution, including media, the courts, the policing forces and of course, the political parties, how might China, or even Russia, be looking to take advantage of it? And with authoritarian governments clearly demonstrating a superior ability to ‘manage’ their populations in response to threats like COVID, and with their increasing suppression of dissenting voices, what is the future for democracies?
A temperature over 100% Fahrenheit was measured within the Arctic Circle this week! Never happened before, and scientists are saying that the effects of global warming may be coming much faster than previously imagined? Having seen that the worldwide effort to deal with COVID was at least possible, if not fully realized – is it possible that a full-scale technological response to global warming will ever be attempted? And is this the time?
Each of these areas of speculation will be impacted by the United States, in one way or another. And the US is facing possibly one of the most important Presidential elections in its history. How will that go? Personally, I’ve given up on viewing the current Republican leadership as anything more than a kleptocracy – a regime bent of gaining as much wealth and power as it can, for its own and those it deems worthy, before it is ultimately swept from power. It will make a huge difference whether this sweep occurs in 4 months or 4 years. What daring acts, moral and immoral, selfish and selfless, will be required to pull off a victory, either way? And what will be the fall-out?
I wish I was more optimistic about what is to come. I do remain hopeful. And more than ever before – even more so than when my generation was coming of age – my hope is with the young.