All the craziness going on these days, reminds of this quote from science writer Philip K. Dick: “It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”
OK, perhaps that’s an overly strong way to put it, but certainly, as we all now painfully realize, reality has a way of occasionally shocking our mental state.
And sometimes those shocks can be strong enough to dramatically transform the way whole societies perceive the world.
In other words, just when we think we have everything figured out, just when we’ve convinced ourselves that our beloved ideologies, belief systems and philosophies can provide us with an accurate depiction of humanity’s forward path, reality will come along and hit us with something like a rampaging global pandemic, and suddenly things don’t seem so clear cut to us anymore.
Nor is the current virus crisis the first time we’ve been shocked out of our complacency.
Anyone old enough to remember the world of the late 1990s, will recall that back then, smart people confidently believed we were entering into an unprecedented phase of peace and prosperity; the Soviet Union had collapsed, democracy and capitalism were triumphant and, as the First Gulf War in 1991 seemed to prove, international co-operation would keep the bad guys at bay.
The trendy term at the time was “peace dividend”.
But then the 21st century arrived, bringing with it a series of seismic jolts, all of which have severely rattled our sense of security.
The first such jolt, of course, was the terrorist attack of 9/11.
When the World Trade Center towers collapsed, so did our optimism; all of a sudden the world seemed like a scary place, full of terrorists ready and willing to do us harm.
As a society we felt vulnerable and anxious.
The trendy term at the time was, “Don’t let the terrorists win.”
Yet even though 9/11 had escalated our sense of fear, we could, at least, still have confidence that our institutions could be trusted to chart a political and economic course for the benefit of the people.
Unfortunately, that changed with the next jolt: the financial crisis of 2008.
This crisis began when the subprime mortgage market in the US rapidly depreciated, which eventually turned into a full-blown international banking crisis, which triggered the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression.
Needless to say, all this created a Tsunami of economic anxiety.
In response, the US government implemented massive bailouts to large banking institutions and to other big corporations.
The trendy term at the time was “too big to fail.”
But although governments did stop big corporations from failing, they also created the impression that the system was rigged to help the world’s dominant economic elites, while it ignored the economically disenfranchised.
The end result was a loss of trust in our institutions, which in turn helped fuel the rise of populism on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum, a dynamic which has drastically changed politics in the USA and in Europe.
Yet even after the financial meltdown we could still believe in the value of free markets and global trade.
We could, that is, until Convid-19 struck us like a thunderbolt, creating a crisis that’s actually worse than 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis combined.
Now not only do we feel helpless against an implacable enemy, but we’re witnessing an unparalleled economic disaster unfold before our eyes.
Now the trendy term is “flattening the curve”.
How will this latest and greatest jolt impact our collective psyche?
Well my sense is, we could see the public clamor to replace free trade and free markets with economic protectionism and with state run economies.
As libertarian friend of mine recently half-jokingly told me in an email, “Now that I have a few bucks in the market, this last week has turned me into a cringing wimp crying out to governments to do something, anything to save me from myself and the foolish faith I had in the markets in the first place and promising never again to trust those markets.”
So get ready, the trendy term in the future might be “Karl Marx was right!”
Warning, the appropriate response to such a reality might be to go insane.
Photo Credit: Paulick Report
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