I’m not in the habit of giving speeches at seven in the morning on a Sunday. But this happened this morning – I spoke at an online medical conference in India about the potential social and economic outcomes of NovaCovid19.
There was quite a lot of academic waffle, but it was interesting. There were dogs and children in the background and a nice lot of chaos too. I’m so glad that I am extra-academic in my work, not least because, in my experience, academics have a problem stretching beyond their current viewpoint. Right now we see a truimphal science riding high, but the problem is that science is in partial denial of the full scope of the issue.
To give an example, one of the speakers mentioned that susceptibility to NovaCovid is related particularly to air pollution – evidence of this is now emerging. Yes, true, and there’s more. It is related to internal pollution by antibiotics, vaccines, chlorine, poor diet and a modern cocktail of toxins. This is partially why Africa is not as badly hit as Europe and USA.
This narrowband approach I found when compiling my Possibilities 2050 report on the future – all experts and available reports to draw on avoided many of the big questions, particularly psycho-social issues, holding fast to to the data, to knowns, to what is held important now and in the past, not in the future – which is valuable but it is not everything. And then of course there are those with an agenda, seeking to reinforce convention or to impose ideologies or questionable perspectives, however redemptive, on others.
I was the only speaker to stay within my allocated eight-minute slot. That says something about an aged hippy thinker amongst a load of academics! A German scientist gave a long ramble about the use of the Hindu Agnihotra ritual in reducing susceptibility to Covid – yes, interesting, but it deserved two, not twelve minutes.
I was looking at the longer term effects of NovaCovid (which is what they call it in India, the pharmaceutical and Ayurvedic centre of the universe). The first is the reality shake-out that has hit us, loosening up people’s thoughts and feelings which, in the end, will improve psychosocial resilience – inasmuch as societal resistance to change and the urge to re-normalise is harmful and constraining. I mentioned how this is the first of possibly three or four crises that are likely to come in the next 15 or so years.
Covid is not primarily a health crisis – the primacy of the virus will fade. The core issue is ecology, economics and human society, and Covid is the catalyst. This is one of the evolving ecological crises of our time, caused primarily in this case by deforestation and human encroachment on nature. Future crises will similarly be catalysed by specific events and causes, but they will still mainly concern wider, deeper issues.
This is about the rehumanising of society, particularly in the West. This is the third crisis adding to the West’s decline in global influence – the first was around 1990, the second around 2008-9 and the third is now. The next is to come. Each time, the West declines by 10% and, relatively, The Rest rises. A key reason why the West is declining is that it has prioritised business over society and, in truth, continues doing so – as in Maggie Thatcher’s much-vaunted statement “There is no such thing as society”. Well, we have found otherwise in the last few months.
Longterm revival is more likely in Asia, Africa and eventually Latin America than in developed countries, since there is a global readjustment going on in which Western consumption levels, production and geopolitical weight are reluctantly in decline. This reluctance is mainly because of our vested interests and the addiction of us Westerners to our comforts and excess consumption. We need to cut consumption by over half in order to achieve sustainability. We are being overtaken on the outside by The Rest, the majority, who are more resolutely oriented toward change and who have less to protect and more to gain from change.
I see this amongst contacts in East Africa, who are now more advanced in such things as permaculture than we – they are beginning to lead the way and the West is running out of steam and initiative, no matter how wonderful and deserving of leadership we believe ourselves to be. This is important.
I was impressed by the degree to which Indian researchers were following international research, especially from Asia. But in Britain, when we talk about ‘scientific’ we don’t read others’ academic papers since we define ‘scientific evidence’ to be valuable only when it’s British, American or, at a push, European. But the people who know their stuff most are the Indians, Chinese, Koreans, Taiwanese and Singaporeans. It shows up in the evidence.
One of the key issues of the 2020s will be sovereign insolvency – state and systemic bankruptcy, especially in countries borrowing heavily to maintain economic levels through the pandemic. This insolvency will be bad for Brexit, bad for nationalism, bad for Great America, bad for Hindu nationalism, bad for Bolsonaro. This growing indebtedness and artificial money-creation is a fatal move, bringing up the next question.
This NovaCovid issue will define a new globalism, since increased national self-sufficiency and resilience, while apposite, only go so far, and then we’re back to global issues. Viruses, people, money and ecology know no boundaries, and many boundaries are obsolete anyway. When the world economy stutters, only something akin to a new Bretton Woods economic reform will allow nations truly to revive.
Yes, the World Bank, the IMF, financial hubs and particularly the shadow and offshore banking sectors. Many nations will go down, either to be taken over, break up and regionalise or to reconstitute in other ways. This is likely to happen by the early 2030s. Sovereign insolvency will be the agent of this change.
How much will things actually change after NovaCovid? Probably by 10% initially and 20% in 5-7 years. I think we’ll see a ‘VU’ recovery. That is, a quick initial bounce-back, then another fall owing to systemic structural weaknesses, followed by a slow and incomplete revival, though not to previous levels. Then other crises will follow to prune things more. Next one 2024?
Here I’m very aware of the symbolism of the bone marrow cancer I am experiencing. It’s a disease of the life-blood, the very life-giving essence that keeps me alive, and it leads to a rotting of the bones, which become shot through with cavities, weakening the bones and the structure of what holds me up. If I fall, my bony frame’s resilience to impacts will be the big question.
Which goes to show, yet again, it’s not what you do (since falling down will happen), it’s the way you do it. This is what’s happening in society – a collective bone marrow cancer. We don’t have a tumour – although top-level structures in society could be regarded as tumorous – we have a condition of the life-blood and a big immunity issue. Lack of immunity to the inevitable, to the passage of change and transformation.
We have a collective blood condition – not just economic but infusing the psychosocial and motivating structure of society. A lot of people are using NovaCovid to think again about their lives. A disadvantage of this will be that many of the best people for engineering change will leave the heart of the system to bring change to their personal lives, leaving behind people inside the system who are less able to bring about change – this was one of the causes of the fall of the Soviet system around 1990. The people who create the problem cannot resolve it.
Universal, comprehensive healthcare in those countries lacking it and increased global equality have been global priorities for years, but they have only now come properly into focus. However, the capacity of governements, investors and the system to invest properly in these is in question, owing to the probability of sovereign insolvency and economic downturn. This means a deeper social transformation if the care and health crisis that has been revealed by NovaCovid is to be acted upon.
We shall need to stop leaning on and looking to governments for leadership: we’ll need social consensus and collective self-discipline if top-down governance is going to weaken and if social healthcare and care in general are to grow. Back in the 1970s a bumper-sticker used to say, ‘If the people lead, the leaders will follow’. Well, now the people need to lead, but we are also very inexperienced in that, we lack solidarity, consensus and social steadfastness – what the Palestinians call sumud, the capacity to hang in there regardless.
This is all very well, but it means a voluntary sacrifice of individualism, exceptionalism and personal freedom. Many of my friends won’t like this bit – it constrains their oh so important personal freedom. Well, get over it, because it’s coming. This is why countries like Sweden and Palestine are doing quite well with the virus – they already have this mutualised societal self-discipline. They do it despite government, not because of it. It also means that volunteerism will be on the rise.
The core issue here concerns strengthening society and its psychosocial resilience. There’s more to go on this question. An initial majority urge to restore normality will obstruct progress until we lurch into the second Covid-related downturn, which is likely to be U-shaped, slower to sink and slower to rise. And the bounceback will rise only to about 80% of previous levels. Structural change is afoot too.
There’s going to be a humdinger of a social and political crisis in coming years. Existing political parties and leaderships are not sufficiently up to the job of good, effective governance. As people realise the full implications of the personal and community changes they are undergoing, a proportion will not wish to return to the good old days. They don’t want to race rats any more – they want to Get A Life. But there’s also the question of social disagreement – it does not work to look at the folk over there and say they’re wrong. They aren’t wrong, they are themselves, fully valid humans who are part of the social process. Blaming those over there for our situation is weak, weak, weak, to quote our dear old friend Tony Blair.
Much now depends on people at the top. But it depends greatly on the mass of the people. Especially in one area: social control, particularly digital. A battle is afoot: our lives will either be controlled by corporations like Amazon, governments and background powers, or we increase social freedoms. But into these social freedoms we must incorporate collective self-discipline.
In other words, people need to learn how to form a consensus incorporating everybody. Without this, goodbye democracy. Democracy isn’t the answer to everything and, to quote Churchill, it’s the least worst option of all those that have been tried, but two qualities of democracy do hold true: the people need to be able to express an opinion when we have one, and we need to be able to change our leaders when necessary. Authoritarian systems have a succession and duration problem and, in times of change, this is critical.
This is perhaps the biggest question of our time. Getting through the 21st Century and its challenges will be done either through increased top-down control or through collective consensus and social strengthening, and it looks at present as if the former is winning. But the matter is not yet decided. It gets decided in the late 2020s and the 2030s, and it’s big. And, guess what, some of the biggest potential contributors to this new phase, owing to their long-established collective experience in making something good out of a bad situation, are Palestinians. Followed by Africans, Iranians, Cubans, Vietnamese…
And now I’m going back to bed. I’m active only a few hours each day – my energy is lower than it was, and I’ve begun wondering how much willpower I have to continue holding myself up and looking after myself in this care-poor nation of ours. Here you can be awarded a grant for hiring home help but it is not delivered at the time when you actually need it. My house is slowly becoming a wreck and I need help with it. Is anyone in St Just or Penzance interested? I am rung weekly by social service types who give me lists of phone numbers to ring but say they cannot help. Ah, thanks.
This is one microscopic aspect of the decline of the West, and also of the decline of Paldywan Kenobi. I do hope my family will come visit me while I’m still alive. I’m dead glad I didn’t take the blood transplant route I mentioned a few months ago – this was intuitively inappropriate and it would have meant I’d have needed 3-6 months extra care. Which is not available. So it’s back to bed for me. Byee!!
Love from the ancient realm of Cornwall, Palden.