I’ve taken a hiatus from writing. In fact over the last eighteen months I’ve given up a lot of things: socializing, friendships, shaving, hair cuts, washing, and hope, to name a few. But out of chaos comes order.
To give this some context it’s important to understand that I’m still living in rural Thailand, where at present we are suffering our worst Covid outbreak so far. Each day I read the deaths and infections statistics as if they were the scores of yesterday’s cricket matches. I read the statistics in my head in the voice of Richie Benaud: “Twenty four thousand infections for the loss of only a hundred and fifty lives, a good day for the doctors there.” Invariably this is followed by: thirty five thousand infections for three hundred dead, and Richie adding, “doctors pay the price for maintaining an undisciplined line and length”.
Over the course of the past two years I’ve become desensitized to death. It’s only natural that we all take life for granted, and it’s easy to be blasé about death, especially when it’s not your own. This is what it means to be desensitized.
I’ve found it tiring to read the the endless line graphs put out by the media. At present Thailand’s has a profile resembling a billionaire rocketing into space, but it’s easy to forget that these lines actually represent people’s lives, and more tellingly deaths. Over time the numbers gradually lose their meaning, figures being afforded a casual glance in the same way I might check the weather forecast before going to work. Except I no longer go to work, haven’t set foot inside a classroom since February.
Online teaching is a Sisyphean task, that’s to say, in that it’s a complete waste of time. People are quick to remind me that, it’s better than nothing. That might be the case, but how much better than nothing has yet to be proven. I’ve often pondered whether a scrupulous teacher would even participate in the online façade. Belarussian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky has been the golden boy of educational psychology for the last forty years. The central theme of his educational theory is that students learn best in social settings. Students do an enormous amount of their learning when talking with one another, clarifying and reinforcing their understanding through informal discussions. And to be honest with you, online teaching doesn’t facilitate this essential part of learning anywhere near adequately.
The other day my students told me they were worried about the future. I told them that there’s no point in worrying, it’s not going to last that long.
I’ve not set foot in a classroom since February. I love to teach. The best part of my day, maybe even my life, has been standing in front of my students and trying to get them to understand something new. Teaching is an interpersonal activity, treating each student according to what motivates them best. It’s immensely challenging, physically demanding, and it’s the best job in the world. And I miss it. And I want to be back with my students.
I’ve not written anything because I’ve been unable to make any sense of the past eighteen months. Do facemasks work? Can you get reinfected? Which vaccine works best? How long should I wait between my first and second jab? can you mix vaccines? What is a high viral load? In the Greek alphabet what letter comes after Delta? Do children need to be vaccinated? What is the r number? Do lockdowns work? Is it possible to teach online? Will there be a shortage of toilet paper? Has the idea of foreign travel been shelved? Are airplanes still flying? Do I have any underlying medical conditions? How many people am I allowed in my support bubble? What if I don’t have enough friends to form a support bubble, should I advertise on Craig’s List? The chaos of Covid follows on from Trump and Brexit, both of which I found to be riddles, wrapped in mystery, inside an enigma. So all told, I’ve been confused for at least the last five years.
One thing I am fairly sure we have learned from this is that we all need to think very seriously before eating anymore bats.
Prepare Yourself to travel the road less traveled, and prepare for that road to be long. Prepare for a second wave of infection, economic, political and social chaos.
We are a part of a physical universe, one determined by cause and effect. As causes go, COVID-19 has been the mother-load and will go on to reaping unprecedented effects on our development as a species. This might sound dramatic, I hope so, but the truth is even more extensive and frightening. The road we chose as individuals and as societies will determine the future of humanity.
A greater than 20 per cent reduction in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at it’s most basic, means that there’s 20 per cent less cash, an economist will try telling you it’s more complicated than that, and I know they’re right, but they will agree it it means that we’ve all got a shed lot less money. This in turn might lead to societies losing confidence in the value of their money, causing either hyper-inflation or deflation, and the economic collapse of some currencies.
It’s difficult to explain how profound a 20% drop in GDP is, but let’s give it a try anyway. Less money for people to buy things equals less tax revenue, this results in a degradation of society’s infrastructure and services. Meanwhile causing a dramatic increase in unemployment, (In the United States unemployment through march and April, has been at 14%, a total of 21 million people, but here’s the catch, 15 million of these are recorded as short term unemployed. Meaning that when the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, they should be returning to their old jobs. Entertaining the idea that everyone will return to their old job is infantile at best. A percentage of those 15 million will return to their old jobs. That percentage is a critical variable, because it’s unemployment that is the key to how long this depression lasts.
Unemployment will be the engine that fuels this economic collapse. Unemployed people go from tax paying citizens contributing financially to the state, to citizens on welfare taking money out of the state. Looked at as a number on a spreadsheet, an unemployed person goes from being an asset to the state, to an economic liability. The reduction in wages being paid, leads to less money being spent on goods, services and taxes, is, likely to drive the prices of things down, based on the simple premise that demand will be so low in non essential items. Essential items, i.e. food and medicines, could see dramatic inflation as supply lines have been so disrupted that demand will come close to, and in some cases might, out strip supply. So things you don’t need, luxury items, will become cheaper. Things you need to live will become more expensive. So, from what I can tell ,,in the future millions will die of starvation whilst immersed in an alternative universe projected by their iPhone X50 Deluxe. This leads to a rabbit hole question scenario:
If I die of starvation in the four dimensional reality I’ve lived in thus far, does my avatar go on living as meaningless an existence as I did?
How the West Was Lost
Why are western countries finding it much more difficult to get COVID-19 under control, compared to the majority of the world, and particularly East Asian countries? The amount of UV is a scientific hypothesis under review, but I’m well aware of fundamental societal issues that are having an impact.
I’ve lived in Southeast Asia for almost twenty years. I’m acutely aware of how western, and by western I’m referring to European and North American countries, have approached handling COVID_19 when compared with countries like South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam and Thailand.
The most obvious difference with the Asian countries is their capacity to mobolise their citizens at a moments notice. In Thailand, the government often declares that its people should wear a black shirt the following day in respect of someone significant having just died. That order could come late on in the day, but I can assure you that the next day 80% of people will be wearing black shirts.
This mentality to follow orders is out of respect of the hierachal structure; right down from village communities with the headsman, up to Kings, presidents, or prime ministers. Conformity is respected. It’s regarded as having respect for others and foments a strong sense of community. Wearing face-masks, social distancing, isolation, shutdown, and implementing systems of contact tracing, has been easy in these countries where the community is regarded as more important than the individual.
During COVID-19, I’ve seen Western leaders repeating themselves with the same requests. Eventually their message attains a critical mass within the consciousness of the population, but this doesn’t result in compliance. The next stage of public reaction is to start asserting your individual liberties, a perception that your government can’t demand that you do anything. Hence we’ve seen the most bizarre reaction to governments asking their citizens to adopt wearing face-masks.
The contrast between western ideology of liberty, and eastern collectivism has gone unnoticed since the collapse of communism. But the United States, which is predicated on an ideology of liberty, individual freedom, has struggled to get its citizens unified to fight the common viral threat. In many of these countries when a leader tells their people to do something the people ask, why?
It begs the question of western democracy, why elect a representative who you will only go on to ignore?
The Ship of State – Demagogues, Democracy, and Socrates
In his book, The Republic, Plato defends the virtues of democracy to his teacher, Socrates, through what has become known as, The Parable of the Ship.
Plato describes society as a ship, with the electorate being represented by the ship’s owner who must decide who captain’s the ship. Each of the able seamen lobby the owner, making their case for why they should captain the ship. Plato even acknowledges the fact that it’s reasonable to expect the candidates to get the owner drunk, or offer bribes. But one of these men must be chosen by the ship’s owner. As the people in a democracy, the people must chose a leader.
Socrates disliked both the idea of democracy and his student’s analogy. Socrates feared that such a system leads to demagoguery:
As with the economy, change doesn’t mean polar opposite, but to make different. There are many things that are perfect with democracy, it’s just that as times change, so do means.
COVID-19 is likely to necessitate changes to our economy, such a moment in history makes it only obvious that we reappraise our democracies. Many countries have seen the standards onboard their ships of democracy degenerate, and start to resemble the conditions of , The Raft of Medusa.
Economic Recovery or Renaissance
If you say that today’s economic system is unjust, what some people hear is, “I’m a Marxist, wealth is evil and can only be achieved through exploitation and the theft of other people’s hard work.” but there is a middle ground. There are ways to make our economies work more justly for everyone. (As soon as you use the words ‘economy’ and, ‘everyone’ in the same sentence, somewhere, somebody’s Marxist alarm gets triggered.)
While I do say that today’s system is unjust, I’m more opposed to Marxist philosophy solving the problem. We can’t be so black and white, so absolutist in our rhetoric. The former Soviet Union and numerous eastern European countries provided us with categorical evidence that communism is an economic system that doesn’t work. Meanwhile, the 2008 global financial crisis made it pretty clear that capitalism has its failings too. Think of adjustments as opposed to complete change, or reversal.
At the very start of Part I, I asked myself a question about these challenging times:
Am I changing for the better, or worse?
We’re being asked to confront challenges of a nature no human has ever had to confront. Don’t rely on others to deal with those changes for you. Don’t expect someone else to come to rescue you. You alone are responsible for yourself and your dependents. It’s your duty to protect them. Ask yourself, are you changing for the better, or worse?
You will get through COVID-19, but the question is how will you get through it? Remember, Noah didn’t begin building the arc when it started to rain. Be smart, consider situations, be critical about the information you receive. There will be suffering, but how much you suffer is down to you. Are you changing for the better, or worse.
These are trying times, and they’re likely to be time of great social change. It’s when things are most difficult that change and progress happen. When we are tried, we become inventive. Adversity often brings out the best in us.
Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.
These days will pass, what we become might not be what we were, but that can be a positive. Although change comes with feelings of uncertainty, it always has the potential to be change can be for the good. But don’t look to others to make your changes for you. You are your own work of art, and you are the sculptor. How you change, and what you become; you decide.
Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if take you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.
We’re at a point in human history when civilisation is changing faster and in ways that will leave it different forever. It only follows that the people must be changing too. During the long soulless hours of isolation I’ve found myself asking:
Am I changing for the better or worse?
There’s no other way to describe these times other than terrifying. Societally and as individuals we’re being forced into making decisions, and ways of living, that we’ve not been prepared for. The structure and order of our societies had to be rebuilt out of the wastelands of World War II, this structure and order is being threatened. If you’re unable to see the pachyderm at your drinks party hitting on your spouse, let me make this easier for you; we are looking into the abyss.
Pandemic, collapse of the global economy, unemployment leading to an inevitable global depression; reduced manufacturing, oil scarcity, reduction in the capacity of food production resulting in famines that the Bible would consider hyperbole; civil disorder, racial tensions, the continuation of eternal religious conflicts, environmental collapse, and energy crises. If just some of these happen as a result of COVID-19, we’re in trouble. If most of them happen, as I am compelled to believe the may well, we’re on for a global reset.
According to the ancient Chinese Book of Change, The I Ching, the symbol of the Tao, dates back to at least 200 BCE. A circle divided in two halves, yin and yang. The symbol intends to represent the oneness of man and the surrounding cosmos. The two halves representing the complimentary pairs of male and female. The I Ching, as it’s name infers, The Book of Change, tells us that mankind has been attuned to fluctuations between moments of chaos and order for thousands of years. Taoism is a religion based on the impermanence of the cosmos and that limitless shifts between hope and despair, life and death are the norm. It proves that such events are an immutable part of the cosmic order. And it’s reasonable to say, that one such event is happening now.
Current circumstances tell us that in our area of the cosmos chaos has taken dominion over structure and order. It is inevitable that under such an existential, and environmental uncertainty, that many of us feel heightened levels of anxiety. (I’m freaking terrified right now, and it’s the reason I’m writing this.)
Even though it might feel as if we have wandered into a metaphorical, valley of darkness, my purpose in writing these two posts, is to help reduce some of your suffering and put some love back into that sad, scared, and lonely heart.
It’s nothing new for suffering to play a part in everyone’s lives, the world’s major religions use this foundational message at the core of their beliefs. But what feels unprecedented is the universality of the suffering in the world. As a person who doesn’t subscribe to any faith, I’m uncertain of this being the actual apocalypse, but I’m keen on it being so. Some Christians might refer to their mythology and believe these times are the apocalypse. Christianity anthropomorphises the apoclypse through the symbolic Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Right now, maybe you’re thinking that this is nothing more than another blog promoting fear-mongering. Such a thought is understandable, even inevitable for many of us. Fear porn, along with actual pornography are the most prominent genres of material to appear on the internet. It’s my purpose to help you understand the gravity of the current situation. But it remains you’re choice, whether you ignore the warnings I’m about to set out. You always keep the right to ignore the elephant in the room.
COVID-19 and Religions
The spiritual texts of the Abrahamic religions have achieved an unprecedented level of success in their ability to remain valid. Even after two thousand years, they continue to influence and retain cultural relavence. It is the paragon of ignorance to deny this fact. I’m agnostic, but I’m very comfortable acknowledging the profound hold these faiths have had, and continue to have on our world. But how have they achieved this?
They achieved this because of one simple but profound reason, they contain ineluctable elements of wisdom that are fundamental truths of nature of the human condition. That might not sound so simple, basically these books tell us: who we are; why we behave the way we do; how it’s desirable for us to behave; what we desire; virtues (good habits); and sins (bad habits). As well as generally encouraging us not to behave like complete dicks. They’ve provided the rules and laws that enabled humans to start living in ever bigger communities. And ever bigger communities generated greater wealth.
Earlier I listed the types of upheval and chaos that I expect COVID-19 to have and cause. And I genuinely see the potential for each of them occuring to a variety of degrees. But there is one area of society that upon which all other areas of our societies depend.
Economic failure will result in the systemmmic failure of our societies as we know them. Should our economies fail, the rule of law, public order, claims to property, food, healthcare, sanitation, medicene, the list is endless, but each of these will to some extent lessen, or cease to exist.
Economic Collapse Post COVID-19
Whilst I am certain that the consequences of COVID-19 will be far reaching in both their space and time. At the moment, COVID-19 is affecting almost every industry and community around the world, and it’s likely to continue doing so for many, many, years to come. I’m thinking more in the terms of a generations ‘ball park’. Denying a generation the hope of upward mobility and prosperity, and replacing it with decades of poverty is going to profoundly affect the lives Once the hope of upward mobility, and prosperity is denied to a generation of people.
Modern society is one that was built around the combustion engine and the burning of fosil fuels. The Baby Boomers grewp following World War II in the most prosperous generation, for the masses, in history. The world needed rebuilding, there was a population explosion there to build it. More people than ever before were in employment, producing more goods, buying more things and paying more tax. Land was affordable, they bought houses, the value of which they saw ascend on a never ending escalator. Baby Boomers worked hard, but the conditions for their economic prosperity were optimal.
Thre’s nearly always a correlation in the relationship between the potential prosperity of an individual and the actual prosperity of their society. It’s now become obvious that anyone aged betweeen 15 and 30, the younger Millennials and start of of Generation Z, that their prospects are going to be worse than both their parents, and their granparents, Genrations X and the Baby Boommers. Generation Z will become the second consecutive generation to inherit a period generational economic decline. The question that needs to be asked is: how do we expect these people to live lives of diminished hope?
This is important because it flouts a rule that is embedded in our evolutionary psyche. Nature determines whether species live or die, flourish or struggle. Because humanity’s prospects are so tightly bound to their economy, it’s becomming abundantly obvious to anyone aged betweeen 15 and 30, the younger Millennials and start of of Generation Z, that their prospects are going to be worse than both their parents, and their grandparents, Genrations X and the Baby Boommer generation to . Indeed, Generation Z will become the second consecutive generation to inherit a period generational economic decline. They are two generations for whom it’s realistic that they will endure significant periods of unemployment. Will be employed in a number of jobs that have unrelated skills. Two generations that will in all likelihood see reductions in worker’s rights. When unemployment is high people don’t tend to care how they’re treated, as long as they have a little bit of money to show for their effort. Temporary contracts, limited healthcare, maternity and paternity rights are realistic scenarios when unemployment s high.
Today’s quality of life is almost a reflection of societal systems underwritten by an economy which is man’s greatest work of fiction.
Why Economic Collapse Is Inevitable
This is an area I’ll actually cover in more detail at a later date, it deserves a more thorough explanation than I have the room for here. Here I’ll give an overview of the collapse, leaving the finer details in part II.
Understanding Definitions is paramount if we’re to understand the severity of this current situation. When I refer to economic collapse I am referring to the end of our fiat based economies. Fiat economies are ones in which the government prints currency. It is then believed that this currency has a value that can be used in exchange for goods and services. I believe this to be quixotic fantasy, no less foolish than building castles on the sand. For further, more in depth information, I recommend reading the work of Dmitry Orlov.
New Yorker, reporter, John Cassidy wrote in a recent article:
Cassidy suggests that, Carney, and the Bank of England became aware of high risk economic practices on Wall Street that haven’t undergone the changes necessary to prevent the exact same thing happening as in 2008. The essence of his article implies that the Bank of England was aware, and concerned about a decline in the lending standards in corporate debt markets, is almost the exact equal of the sub-prime debacle
If you’re still reading this I assume that you’re in agreement that the economic fall out of COVID-19 is going to be signifiicant, but may be reluctant to agree with my prediction of a complete collapse of the fiat system, bringing an end to currency as we know it.
Okay, what does your more optimistic scenario look like? We know that there’s going to be enormous recession/depression fueled by unemployment. In turn, this triggers a reduction in taxes received, resulting in sub optimal funding of public services. The unemployed will have to find money by fair means or foul, so an increase in crime is inevitable. The reduction in public funding means the police needed to deal with the increase in crime, will not exist. Poverty, results in poorer diets leading to obesity, diabetes, or other health complications. It causes stress which is known to heighten the risk of developing cancer. And if you’ve been lucky enough to survive all that, you have a proclivity to fall into drug and alcohol addiction, be at a greater risk of depression and according to a, 2003 study by a team of New Zealand doctors, proved that people between the ages of 18 and 64, who are unemployed are between two and three times more likely to commit suicide. If history’s taught us one thing, it’s that poverty sucks.
Ploughing the Fields of Hopelessness
And when one of these people do get a job, they’re so grateful that they’ll work till they drop to make enough to feed themselves. They can’t afford aspirations to improve their lot, for fear of appearing ungrateful. Read, Steinbeck’s, Grapes of Wrath. Mass unemployment and a depressed employment market erodes hope. And hope isn’t just a word you expect to see appearing in the inscriptions of Hallmark cards. Hope can be is also a noun, and a verb. The noun names the feeling, whilst the verb is the feeling. To be robbed of the ability to feel hope is a desperate state of affairs. Hope is an emotion that has survived millions of years of natural selection. Hope and evolution has interested psychologists. What purpose does hope play in maximising our abilities to survive, procreate and pass on our genes?
Rats, Religion and the Power of Hope
Let me warn you that psychology experiments conducted soon after World War II are notorious for their ignorance of ethics.
The purpose of Richter’s morbid interest, to compare how long domesticated rats survived compared to their wild counterparts. Richter discovered that the domesticated rats, despit not needing to swim in their day to day environments, far out performed the wild rats.
The explanation given is that the domesticated rats were used to being helped by handlers and were writing to be saved. While being far superior swimmers, the wild rats drowned sooner as once they had understood that there was no escape they gave up.
If you’ve read all and been left to feel that has lingered in each and every sentence, you have started to understand what’s about to happen. To have any chance of making good decisions over the next twelve months, it’s imperative to understand the scale of the events that are resulting from COVID-19. Hope is essential in the challenges that lay ahead.
in Part II I promise hope, chicken soup for your soul.