The Cultural Pandemic
I always shake my head when I read an article that starts with the premise that we are at some existential crossroads or turning point. Humanity is always suffering from some crisis. It was only 155 year ago that the greatest war deaths occurred. The recent coronavirus pales in comparison to the World War II that end with 85 million deaths, or 3 percent of the world’s population. Compare that to the projected deaths from the coronavirus of far less than 1 million. In WWII look at what happened the so-called losers of Japan and Germany. And then look at what happened to the winners. The world became a better place to live for everyone. That is the mark of a true cultural pandemic or revolution. The world is permanently changed!
However, the greatest changes do not occur from wars or pandemics. The greatest global changes come from what I call cultural pandemics. Unlike the physical pandemics of disease, where the rampant disease finally ebbs and vanishes like the Black Death or the lesser Coronavirus, cultural pandemic change our reality for good. Such events in the past were the Old Testament (5th Century BC), the rule of Charlemagne (circa 9th Century AD), the advent of movable type with the Gutenberg Bible (15th Century AD ) and the Industrial Revolution (circa 19th Century AD).
The most recent cultural revolutions occurred in the infamous 1960s (20th Century), a time that I lived through. One occurred in America and was deemed the “Counterculture Revolution of the 1960s.” It brought us female equality, birth control and sexual freedom. The other occurred in the People’s Republic of China with the “Cultural Revolution” and transformed China from a communist economy to a quasi-capitalist one.
However, the effects of the socio-political revolutions of the 1960s are starting to ebb as we transition to the next great cultural pandemic, which coincidentally is occurring at the same time as the coronavirus impact. This would be the what is called the “Technology Revolution” (21st Century AD) that spawned emerging technologies in fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, private-sector space travel, and the Internet.
Setting cultural change aside, it is also called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The others being Mechanization (1st-1765), Chemicals/Communications (2nd-1870), Computers (3rd-1969), and (4th-Today).* This greatest human cultural revolution (and pandemics) will occur in the 21st Century. It will be when humanity either totally adapts to or is adapted by the very technology we created.
This is what I call the Cyborg Revolution. It will be one where humanity is increasingly served by robots and AI technology, and pandemics become increasingly a way of life.
* Institute for Entrenuership Development
Coronavirus: It’s Not So Bad Bubba!
We humans always believe that we are living in the worst of times. That is because we only have our own lives as the reference point. However, the post-apocalyptic world of the coronavirus is really not so bad. It is estimated that globally some 3 million people may die from it. Compared to what you say? You live in a pandemic bubble where you a greatly inconvenienced. That’s all.
The short history of civilized humanity is only 5,000 years long. It has only been 75 years since the end of World War II. This is basically one lifetime and we have already forgotten the millions of people left homeless and destitute in Europe and Asia. We here in America were left financially unscathed by it. Think of those people in Japan and Germany, the losers of the war who had nothing left but there very lives. It is estimated that 70–85 million people perished, which was about 3% of the 1940 world population died. It was 670 years ago when the Black Death killed up to 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.
The worldwide high estimate of deaths directly attributed to the coronavirus is 3 million. So the death toll from the coronavirus is miniscule by comparison. The greater problem will be the global famine. As of 2017, the United Nations warned that over 20 million are at risk in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen from starvation. That warning came before the coronavirus event! But all of this is out of sight and mind for those of us lucky to live in the 1st world of developed nations. For those of us living in such places as the United States, Europe and parts of Asia and South America these numbers are paltry. They don’t even approach 1 million.
Coronavirus: Social Contract Failure and the White Swan
“Social contract theory” -- as envisioned by none other than Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau -- was that the governed agreed to give up certain rights in exchange for personal safety and security. With the coronavirus we have what is unarguably the greatest social contract failure in the history of mankind. Once the dust has settled, or in this case the risk of contamination, the blame game will begin in full force. Already the wingnuts on the nationally syndicated Coast-To-Coast show are promoting the theory that this pandemic is actually a well-choreographed attempt by the “New World Order” (a.k.a., that this is the Bilderberg Group; Trilateral Commission, Council on Foreign Affairs) to establish martial law. But the more serious amongst us will start the armchair, kibitzing of the question of how this could have happened in our modern age.
As the planning director for METRO, the regional government for the three county and 23 cities covering metropolitan Portland (OR) and its 1.5 million denizens, I secured a $750,000 FEMA grant to prepare the first regional emergency preparedness plan in America. The scope of the plan was to address all possible disaster scenarios. In the Pacific Northwest the two most looming possibilities were the two active volcanoes (i.e., Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood) and the ever-present level 9.0 San Juan de Fuca Plate Subduction Zone Earthquake.
In October 2018 an audit report was released by METRO’s own elected auditor. The audit reviewed 16 possible emergency incidents affecting Metro in the past five years. Sadly, not one mention was made of a pandemic. I say sadly because the precursor to the coronavirus had already occurred in the 2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) pandemic and the later 2014-2106 Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa.
The regional failure of Portland, Oregon is emblematic of the international failure of the World Health Organization (WHO) to fully address such an event. We are blessed with the fact that divine providence or dumb luck has given us a chance to compensate for a full scale pandemic as foretold in movies such as Outbreak (1995), 28 Days Later (2002), Carriers (2009), Contagion (2011), Flu (2015), Last Days (2015), Pandemic (2016), and finally Virus (2019). It is mind boggling that humanity was not better prepared for what was clearly envisioned by the popular culture media.
IIn an interview with Bloomberg, Nassim Nicholas Taleb author of The Black Swan ( 2007) said that the coronavirus pandemic was predictable, so it cannot be put on a par with the September 11 attacks and be considered as a "black swan." "We issued our warning that effectively you should kill it in the egg. If you can act very quickly," Taleb said.
Taleb said,m "I am so irritated that people would say it is a 'black swan'." The real "black swan," according to Taleb, is the events of September 11th. The coronavirus pandemic was predictable, which means it is a "white swan." WHO Joins Association to Launch Blockchain to Track Coronavirus The "white swans" are financial crises that happen not spontaneously, but naturally. As Taleb stated, since the pandemic was predictable, businesses and governments around the world have no excuses for such a low level of preparation for the spread of the virus, "They did not want to spend pennies in January. Now they are going to spend trillions."
Coronavirus: Love in a Time of Cholera
The global coronavirus pandemic reminds me of the storyline of the book Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez (1985). In the book, “lovesickness” is portrayed as a metaphorical disease. And for my wife and I, our love has indeed blossomed while for most others have either been temporarily quarantined, declined or sadly died. I am not bragging about how smart were. Quite the opposite. I am fully aware of how lucky we are to live in this non-pandemic bubble. Unlike the rest of the world, this has been a blessing.
Our circumstances are unique. First, we learned early on about the potential trials and tribulations of the virus because my wife’s son was actually in Wuhan, China at the outset of the virus. So, we had a firsthand account of the coming supply shortages, transportation problems, and the need for masks, etc.
For us, a looming economic recession is not a problem. To begin with I am semi-retired and telework from home. I manage an online book resource that sells solutions to of all things relevant – organizational change management (OCM).
My wife, on the other hand, works for an electricity public utility wholesaler and had recently been promoted to a job where she teleworked two workdays a week.
After we married last year, decided to buy a new home with his and her offices. So now we can work independent of each other without any interference. Offices have a PC and a laptop, and ergonomic adjustable desks. And if we need privacy or not broadcast our voices, we always shut the door.
Unlike many of her coworkers, my wife and I don’t kids and they moved on to create their own families. So now we don’t any kids underfoot.
If we need food and supplies, we use delivery, so the world comes us. We already were big Amazon and Whole food buyers. I can also get my prescription medications by mail.
My wife was also lucky and found the recommended masks from California. So when we do have to go out, we can do so safely.
One final financial irony is the timing of the sale of my house sale. I am selling my previous home that I own with my ex-wife. The sale of the house has dragged on for a little over a year because of its unique character. At the very moment I finally had two rather iffy buyers for the house, the virus struck and disrupted the sale to both of them. And then the situations reversed and the both became more serious and one of them committed. So just when many people are jumping out of the stock market with panic selling, I have opportunity to jump in with cash to literally “buy low.”
And about the “love sickness” that I alluded to? Our home office environs comes with its own parking garage, kitchen, bathroom, breakroom (family room) and the purely elective amenity of an auxiliary bedroom for… “rest breaks.”
Our current lifestyle is a harbingers of things to come – what may well be the new norm. Telework from home offices and the 3-day work week