Let’s start with some context. The Great Depression of the 1930’s was a worldwide event, the economic effects reached at least 90% of the world’s population in significant ways. World War II, that followed (with the two events developing over 15 years or so) also had economic effects that probably reached at least 90% of the world, and the significant political effects were also up in the 90% levels, with many populations affected by civil wars, refugee flows and urban warfare.
My best judgment as a historian is that the Corona virus catastrophe is already, for all living generations, our version of the Great Depression.
If it goes on with shutdowns of events over 10 people over large portions of one’s country for the next four or six months – or with massive die-offs in the countries that haven’t locked down enough in that time period – or if it comes roaring back in the fall after an attempt to return to normal in the summer – the Corona virus will be our World War II as well.
Nearly every society will be undergoing massive changes in social attitudes, in institutions, in politics high and low, and in economics high and low. It is already Massive, and the worst is the huge number of uncertainties surrounding our scientific knowledge of the virus and its effects – on top of all the usual local political, economic and personal uncertainties we all face every day.
There are so many questions for which even the best authorities just can’t provide definite answers. What’s the death rate? Why the large disparity between many mild cases and the worst cases? How deep an economic hole could we fall into? Do existing tests have a big false negative rate? Can we get medical equipment to where it’s needed? The questions go on and on.
I’m not the guy who’s here to give my predictions and prognostications and surmises on just how it will all turn out, on just what the huge adjustments that we will be making, will turn out to be.
I am the guy who’s here to pound on the point that your thoughts and actions (and everybody else’s thoughts and actions) is what will determine and create that future history that all of us – all of us who survive — will be experiencing. The zillions of hourly and daily thoughts and actions of all the world’s 8 billion people over the next year and more will be what determines our human future, our individual and social/national/global futures as well.
As a caution to all, including myself, against trusting your latest great insight, it is very easy for individuals in relatively small subcultures to feel that “the world is going one way” even though the muddled mass of global humanity may be moving in quite a different way.
I am the historian who says that we could understand nearly all historical situations, assuming we could get the data on people’s thoughts and actions. Of course that’s near impossible for the past (barring great archaeological discoveries) yet for us, now, in the 21st Century of drones and data banks, it does become (at least theoretically) possible to do something I wrote about 40 years ago – a Science of History that includes Every Single Person on this earth.
If this sounds ridiculous to you, you should consider that the Chinese government (with the help of American technology companies) is certainly trying to construct a database of the thoughts and actions of any one of the billions of persons under their control, and probably anyone else they can get to.
I am also the historian who has tried to develop an understanding of how our zillions of everyday thoughts and actions do in fact create the data of our histories and our cultures, the data that the social sciences are attempting to explain. And I’ve tried to provide some tools to help you in analyzing the social science data that you can get, from your everyday life, from your interactions with others, and from simple basic research you can do on people and situations in your life. I’ve been developing these tools for over forty years, and I believe they’ve helped me in my life situations.
So if you do have more time on your hands, I do invite you to visit my high-class, no clickbait, deeply longform website that’s been going for 10 years now (and according to Cloudflare service has received hundreds of thousands of readers coming in for over 3 million hits in the last four years). The whole site (with lots of autobiography, my best published work and other recent articles) is the size of a small book; read my article on why polling is never as accurate as claimed, or my article on reforming the advertising industry for a more progressive society.
My main article on how we simultaneously create history and the social sciences with our every thought and action is at least a 20-30 minute read, 9200 words or about 14-24 book pages depending on format. Please take your time to read it, in my old age I’m finding that my clearest writing usually means adding more words to help distinguish all the shades of gray we encounter in the human historical panorama.
In my old age, I’m also coming to realize that a lot of my personal success comes from a personal ability to understand and accept uncertainty and risk. I’ve always tried to accept that there are huge uncertainties in all our human situations, whether at the world-historical level, or the personal level of “what is my friend thinking/trying to do” in some particular situation. I’ve always tried to accept that there are great amounts of risk in every significant action I might take. I look at other people, and I see a lot of you tearing yourselves apart because you’re longing for certainty in some situation important to you, you crave it, and want it, and that’s understandable.
Yet we hardly ever have the kind of
data on our fellow human beings that could allow us to make
“absolutely certain” judgments on them, and they always have the
theoretical possibility of doing something new. In human
situations and social environments, a lot of us can’t even have
certainty in ourselves, that’s a big first step. Yes, small groups
that work together closely and communicate can have a very pleasant
certainty in each other. Beyond that there is very little certainty
to be found. It gets worse the larger the group, so considering the
whole human population is the most uncertain area of all.
And so here we all are. A global, life-and-death crisis with huge economic, political and personal effects reaching over 97-98% of human populations, about which we cannot be too certain in any direction of analysis or planning. The fact that the USA is led by a severely mentally-ill individual supported by a party in denial of reality, and that two-thirds of the world lives under dictatorships whose decisions may be far from what any citizen of their nation or other nations desires, means the global outcomes are likely very bleak, poor and depressing. And again, it is highly likely that many of our current institutions and social arrangements and personal preferences are actually going to be completely reformed after the effects of this pandemic, because that’s what happens when many many people’s personal lives are entirely disrupted by world-shaking events like the Great Depression and World War II. The Corona virus catastrophe is one of those events.
Yet I do have to be an optimist in my personal life, I’m always trying to see a way out of whatever mess I’m in (including the world-historical messes way above my level of influence.) And so I’m trying to rouse and raise my own efforts and visions in this crisis, and I want to urge you to rouse yourself and raise yourself as well. We desperately need bravery and courage in this Sick New World. We need each other to provide it. Please, face down your fears, do your best to help create the better human societies that we all need very much. All the other problems of human society are still out there, needing to be reformed by our thoughts and actions. Big changes will come from the crisis – we need to be insisting that these changes really work to the benefit of the majority of the population.
The children and grandchildren we will hopefully be leaving our legacy to will need those better societies even more than we do.