Hello again, folks!
I know it’s been quite a while since I’ve spoken to you, and I apologize for the absence. Life gets busy. An election year in the United States, and a pandemic year for EVERYONE. Since last time, I’ve changed ‘day’ jobs and luckily been able to remain employed during these tumultuous times, albeit at reduced salary. I’m glad to have remained employed and I realize that many of you have not.
2020AD will go down without doubt in the annals of recent history as a year of unprecedented changes. I’m going to call it the ‘Year When We Found Out’. Because many of us have discovered a LOT of things about ourselves and more importantly about our society and its ability to withstand change- or NOT. We’ve also discovered amazing dichotomies, dissonances cognitive and otherwise, and injustices that were always there. It just took a national and a world-wide disaster, both of them unfolding before our very eyes in (un-)real time, to make many of us realize what had been going on the whole time.
Both disasters masqueraded as things apprehensible and immanent- and not trivial in themselves by any means- but they merely served as the exterior indicator of matters that are much deeper and systemic in nature; symptoms, if you will, of underlying diseases. The one ‘local’ to me, here in the United States, was a political disaster whose precise nature proves as unimportant as the man who engendered it though revealed something very important about the deficits of this nation’s political system- and its society. The nature of the ‘worldwide’ disaster that has affected us all in fashions both great and small, economic and personal, itself is also unimportant in detail but it has nevertheless served to point out flaws in the way we’ve let our planet-spanning society grow and function. The disasters themselves aren’t important in that if it hadn’t been a crooked politician or a disease, it would have been some other crisis that would have shown us the desperate (and hopefully not fatal) flaws in the narratives to which we’ve staked our literal lives and future. Willingly or not.
People a lot smarter than me (and many, alas, who are NOT) will be writing books for DECADES about what 2020 has taught us. It’s not my goal to paint it in any but the broadest brush strokes. To that end, I’ll just share some insights that I’ve had over the past year, in short and without a lot of polemics.
One thing I’ve found out this year (and will not be a news-flash to ANYONE) is that society in the United States is deeply divided. Everyone in the nation, and many outside it, already KNOW this as an incontrovertible fact. I’d know this myself long before 2020 (see my earlier Blog, ‘Race And Bigotry In The United States’). What I discovered is just how deep the rifts are, and that it’s not as simple as a mere binary division between political parties (or ‘liberal’ vs. ‘conservative’) or even the trinary division between the rich, the middle class and everyone else, which supposes that all three ‘classes’ share the same economic system (they DON’T, anymore). This nation has fractured, daresay practically atomized itself, in manners economic, cultural AND narrative. The thing that was supposed to unify us, bring us all together and let us discuss our views in a manner that had little to do with our access to traditional media and give the small and dispossessed the same opportunity to treat with everyone else, has turned out so far to be a poisoned gift.
I speak of course of the ‘Internet’ and its handmaidens, ‘social media’. For reasons too complicated to enumerate here this supposed ‘boon to mankind’ has turned into a nightmarish collection of algorithms programmed to atomize society (and make a couple of small groups a LOT of money doing it . . .) Like fire and government but seeming stronger than either, social media has turned from a powerful servant to a horrible master. And no, the irony of writing this essay on social media is NOT lost on me. All new forms of communication media- writing, print, telegraphy, radio, television- have engendered social disruption in the generations after their adoption, but THIS one has so far been ‘gangbusters’. It’s going to take a lot of adjustment for society, not only here in the US but world-wide, to adapt to Internet-mediated social media and find a new functional level of discourse. If indeed it CAN adapt, in its current incarnation.
Worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has really shown us all how fragile and interconnected we’ve made the planet’s economic system. With local variations on a theme, of course, the economic narrative currently shared across the entire world is ‘liberal capitalism’; a system of shared beliefs in investment, profit-making and mutual interaction mediated through the exchange of goods, services and most importantly credit as mediated by the paradigm of money. Properly supervised with regulations administered by honest governments to protect the helpless, and efficiently run- especially with the help of the Internet- liberal capitalism harnesses the economic output of the World entire for the best outcomes of everyone. Naturally some benefit more than others but in theory (the very core of the narrative) is that everyone who participates gets some slice of the pie, and the pie itself also gets bigger . . .
Until it doesn’t. Supply chains with no excess capacity, support networks that rely on carefully-staged shipments of goods, and services that run constantly at their maximum output suddenly shudder and grind to a halt when ANYTHING serves to disrupt even one link in their immensely complex and choreographed operations. When I was a soldier, long ago, we ran military operations with some level of ‘cushion’; contingency planning, excess capacity, capabilities and operators who could stand in when battle stopped a supply shipment or wiped out a key function. However, modern business does not operate that way anymore. Armies don’t have to turn a profit, after all. Contingency planning costs money. ‘Excess capacity’ laying idle- whether it’s ‘extra’ stock in a warehouse or ‘extra’ beds in a hospital- isn’t making a profit for the investors, whose current paradigm demands the maximum profit possible be guaranteed contractually and who won’t hesitate to enforce any breaches via law. I’ll leave the moral ramifications of THAT as an exercise for the perceptive.
Enough for this blog. I’m not here to beat up any particular group or groups of people. There’s no ‘percentage’ in finger-pointing. I’ve merely shared some things I’ve concluded over the course of 2020, and hopefully offered some food for thought. I’ll recommend Noah Yuval Harari’s excellent book ‘Sapiens; A Brief History Of Humankind’ here.
Keep striving, friends- and stay healthy!