There is now a need to find, if possible, some model which can explain to the billions of people around the world where we are, where we’re headed and what kind social and political order might emerge from the ashes of the current crisis. In order to do so, we can look to combine four intellectual pillars: History; Utopias and Dystopias; Futurology; and Geopolitics.
History - or even the philosophy of history - allows for the interpreting and the taking of some historical precedents from the past and applying them to current reality;
Futurology can help us to predict what kind of future awaits us both in the long-term and the short-term;
The utopian and dystopian concepts represent and model the historical development of society both in terms of negative and positive aspects of this prospective development. This is precisely the time to take a closer look at the ideas and models of human development which were presented by the classical utopian writers;
Geopolitics is the most interesting case to think about now because it can tell us about the future distribution of global power and, most importantly, who is going to take advantage over the situation and who can rule over continents or even the world.
Certainly, it was possible to prevent and avoid, but our leaders failed to prevent it and secure us.
China has given odds to the entire world and first of all to the West, she gave not a week or a couple of weeks, but almost an entire two months to prepare something tangible in order to block negative and apocalyptic scenarios. Everyone was saying that this is going to be an “Asian” crisis, however, our elites failed miserably. So, welcome to the New Brave World.
The effects of this event will be with us for years in culture, geopolitics, and in human personal history. The History of humanity, in the meantime, tells us that what we all are facing is something that has never been here before. Usually, intellectuals create models or patterns of behavior according to historical precedents. In the case of coronavirus, it is almost impossible to predict the future. For economy, we can apply the consequences of the global economic crises of the 20th century; in terms of global pandemic diseases we can mention several, for example the “Black Death” and the “Spanish Flu.” The global and regional, social and human implications can be on an apocalyptic scale, if the countries which still are able to contain the disease (for example the Eastern Europeans), will not introduce severe measures especially to those coming from abroad.
Now it is already possible to classify the countries’ struggle as different types:
- Doomed countries (until now, no country in the world is at this stage, but such a scenario cannot be excluded for countries with a poor organizational system of health care, supply chains and the ability to maintain social order);
- Countries contaminated by the disease which currently have the highest active cases and the highest mortality rates (Italy, Iran and - approaching this status - Spain, Germany, France and maybe the U.S.). In the cases of Italy and Iran, it is possible to state that these countries are now out of the global or regional economic and political agenda. Thus, it is open to different countries to take advantage of the situation. If we look at the map we see that all western great powers are busy with the Coronavirus. However, until now, no single country in the globe has been to do so;
- Seriously Affected countries with a high number of active cases. The primary purpose of these countries is to reach the less dangerous status when the virus is more or less under control or when it is regionally contained as soon as possible;
- Slightly Affected countries which are behind the curve in terms of active cases: these countries-e.g. Poland, Russia - still have a chance to turn the situation into a recovery stage. Note that Russia is acutely aware both of the importance of containment and of the future geopolitical advantages over the situation;
- Recovering countries - those countries which seem to have managed to win the war with the virus and now are restoring their economic and social order back to the Pre-Virus situation. China is certainly such country;
From this, we can derive several interesting observations:
Firstly, it seems that all of a sudden, the virus has turned from “a biological weapon” against Asia to “a biological weapon” against Western civilization. Currently, all of the most contaminated countries are parts of the West (except Iran). Trump and some other American politicians have subsequently sought to blame China for the global outbreak of the Coronavirus.
Second, now among those countries which have already turned the situation into a new “post-Corona” dimension, and those who will be able to do so in the near future, there is opportunity to reap all the geo-economic and geopolitical benefits.
Those who recover first will be able to impose new geopolitical conditions upon new post-Corona world order first. This is not merely a simplification when already many world leaders have compared the current situation with the Second World War. It is the closest comparison which has happened once in history with total global consequences to the entirety of mankind.
We are still living in this global international order, which was built in the aftermath of Potsdam and Yalta. In all likelihood, it is inevitable that there will be a global and economic power reshuffle after this ongoing and unfolding crisis. Thus, there is a new partition of global markets and spheres of influence ahead of us, the correlation of forces can alter, but the current hegemon will not passively watch and give up its geopolitical gains and possessions without a fight.
Third, the European Union is fully busy with the Coronavirus and with the crumble of the Schengen zone, the survival of the EU institutions and with the survival of the EU itself.
Relations between the EU and the US may be seriously undermined by the current situation - especially by the recent decision of the American Administration to unilaterally suspend air connections with all European countries.
It is absolutely clear now that the notion of Schengen will be questioned even after the end of the first battle (let alone the war) against the virus. The alacrity of the member-states to restore the same level of sovereignty that there was before the crisis will soon evaporate. It is possible to foresee that the countries of the EU will increasingly revert to the concept of national sovereignty, in which case the best that can be hoped for amongst Euro-enthusiasts is the idea of “Europe des nations”. The last two weeks has highlighted on a global scale, and more importantly for Europeans in Europe, that people can only rely on their own people and their own nation, when nobody is in fact ready to help. All member-states - in total shock after what they witnessed in Italy - sealed the borders and do not know what is coming next. Equally, there can be no prediction as to how long this is going to last and how it is going to end. People would like to go to the last harbor in the times of crisis or calamities - to God, but they are deprived even of Him. “Corona” has given more power to the State in these days; the State has pushed religion online, onto people’s smartphones and laptop screens. Nowadays, this massive feeling of deprivation has been extended to all corners humanity: entire nations feel the sense of abandonment; not to mention people, individuals.
Fourth, this is about a global economy which is “coughing” together with humanity under the specter of Coronavirus. The consequences of the crisis are possible to compare with the previous global crises of the 20th century. However, it would be an inappropriate comparison to make, because the world was never so deeply intertwined and interdependent, and because everything is unfolding within days, weeks or months. There remains the avalanche which is falling from the sheer cliff. This is not the usual economic crisis witnessed even in 2008 when developments were occurring as in the traditional avalanche, when snow slides down a steep slope. We are facing a global fall from the rock to the abyss. The Governments of the Western capitals are declaring that they are controlling the situation, trying as in previous modern economic crises in the post-Cold War era, to invest in the economy (so- called ‘rescue packages’). As a measure, the massive nationalization of major banks and industries is already under discussion, as the only measure which will enable economic security. The credit system of the countries of the West can trigger serious problems to social stability.
Fifth, this is about the societal, social and psychological consequences which can threaten especially urbanized human agglomerations. The mental health of many millions of people will face serious challenges because of the limited human contact and mobility, so natural to a contemporary human. Research has been published in “The Lancet” which suggests that the psychological impact of quarantine is linked with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, confusion and anger, and it can have long-lasting effects. The mass number of people with such diagnoses expected in the near future and can be compared only with that of a huge war. Stigma, anxiety, confusion or even mass panic are other problems that can be foreseen. Particular attention should be paid to the social factor that can mitigate the psychological and social implications over the mass restriction of humans in their homes which is the internet. Stable and fast Internet is the best solution which can prevent humans from aggressive behavior or eventual riots over the inability of the state to tackle the crisis.
However, it is not a sufficient panacea. I have personally witnessed this several times in Turkey, where student “riots” have broken out at my university when the Internet disappeared from the university campuses. There were full-scale rallies, with people chanting and demanding only one thing – the Internet. All governments must be prepared to avoid any of such scenarios.
People are striving to understand the new social order which appeared in front of them. For example, in France people are reading Camus’s “Plague” en-masse and trying to understand the rules of behavior that might come to be associated with the new nature of human interaction.
Sixth, the routine-intensive life of hundreds of millions of people within a couple of days has emerged as a total nightmare of “creatures” which are obliged, under restrictive and in some cases repressive rules, to stay together with their own family members within city-cells. The mentality of the Chinese people says that this country and these people can and will act as a monolithic social and historical organism which respects collectivism and is able to operate as one engine. Whereas we have all grown up in the West with the idea that collectivism or any other non-European model of human conduct is cruel and totalitarian. Only Liberal Democracy and Individualism are able to bring humanity to a truly bright future. The Chinese social and political order is neither democratic nor, particularly, liberal, but what we’ve seen is that the culture of collectivism and the ability of an authoritative regime to mobilize the nation at the time of such existential threat as Coronavirus may have been enough to save a nation. Restrictive measures have become pertinent even for the nations of the West. In line with this logic, it would be appropriate to mention Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s recent speech declaring a State of Emergency in Poland when he - several times - mentioned democracy and said that the State of Emergency in the country would not harm the principles of a democratic society. Thus, for democratic countries, it is very important to pursue policies which would show their commitment to democracy and a readiness to battle with the virus on a basic level of solidarity and trust between the state and civil society. The “Coronavirus crisis” has an undeniably global moral and values dimension.
Seventh, we are all witnessing the Global Digital Revolution.
All people are now learning to work, study, and to merely live from their own homes through their electronic devices. If before digitalization had its limits - now it makes a global breakthrough onto the paramount level. Surely, humanity has been witnessing this revolution at least for two decades, but humans vehemently resisted it. In 2020, they were forced by an external factor to yield it.
Eighth, the ecological aspect is one of the most interesting cases in the Coronavirus epopee. In the world, we have several geographical regions in which Nature has tremendously benefited from human disasters or conflicts. For instance, Chernobyl; the neutral zone between South and North Koreas; Donbas, or the neutral zone between the occupied Crimea and the Ukrainian mainland, etc. Yet, these were numbered cases. What we are witnessing now, is a rapid deindustrialization of the entire world. This is undoubtedly not a natural process and can be immediately restored, but the fact remains that denaturalization, even if it is only a temporary phenomenon, is happening. For example, according to NASA and the European Space Agency, pollution monitoring satellites have detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China. There can be no doubt that the outbreak of coronavirus has triggered such a desired improvement of the ecological situation in one of the most industrialized places in the world because of the economic slowdown. The worldwide slowdown of consumption of steel, oil, coal, the use of transportation - especially air planes - and because of remote work from home, people not using their own cars, which positively reverberates in the ecological situation in the world and every country. Perhaps, this is a change to humanity to undertake and conduct an Ecological Revolution, but everything depends on the very fact of how successful the war against the Coronavirus will be.
China will definitely try to restore previous levels of production, but this would be production against real demand in a world which does not need products at the level it did before the crisis. However, China does now have the chance to become a global pharmaceutical factory and produce all the necessary medical products that countries need in order to tackle the crisis in all corners of the world.
If before - during the Cold War - China used Panda Diplomacy to make friends, today China under the circumstances of the Corona crisis can introduce “Corona Diplomacy”, where they will help needy nations with respiratory masks, plasma, medical equipment and by sending medical specialists, and so forth.
Ninth: it is not a secret anymore that the most affected group according to the scientists is elderly people, and the young generations’ immune systems are able to withstand the detrimental effects from the virus. Thus, the Coronavirus has a specific expression - this is targeting ageing people throughout the world, but we take into account the regional dimension, where we can see a very bright and explanatory picture. According to the UN “World Population Ageing Report 2019”, the share of total population aged 65 years or over 65 the total leadership is given to two regions: Europe/Northern America and Australia/New Zealand. They both have a share of population over 65 about 17 per cent of population. After these two regions, there is the Eastern South-Eastern Asia with around 9 per cent. Italy, Germany, Spain, Greece, Finland, UK, Portugal and Latvia have the biggest share of people beyond the age of 65. Italy is an undeniable leader according to this indicator, with around 22 per cent of the entire population. It is certain that Europe is fertile soil for Coronavirus.
Regarding the U.S., the situation is not so dramatic. But the American picture has its own uniqueness. The American leadership remains similar to the Soviet Politburo in its last years before Perestroika – when each member was beyond the age of seventy years old. Today, the U.S. political elite from both sides are people in their seventies or older. In the Soviet Union, such demographic anomalies caused a huge crisis because nobody was left who could stop the country’s drive into its historical abyss, led by the young generation under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. They felt that they had free hands to launch the liberal agenda (according to Marxist-Leninist tradition – the left).
The same can happen in the U.S., if the Coronavirus attacks the American political leadership with dramatic consequences for those people, it would trigger a change of the political landscape in the U.S. and bring to power people with an unprecedented socialist agenda for America. It seems that we may witness - in such a scenario - the transformation of power between generations.
Tenth, the shape of China is changing, since the country has almost overcome the virus. In vain, many experts predicted China’s decline because of the virus. For China as a state, and for the Chinese people especially, these two months will be integrated into the national DNA and into national pride. It will be regarded as one of the most prominent events in the history of China since 1949. Furthermore, China is now approaching a situation in which it can stay out of the global situation and both dictate economic conditions to the rest of the world - and moreover, maybe most importantly, use “Corona Diplomacy” for undermining Euro-Atlantic unity. Italy already is not going to forget what China has done for the Italians. China is ready to assist with the fight against the Coronavirus in Poland, Iran, Syria, Serbia and this list will be rising in the coming days. Chinese medical assistance and help will be delivered to all corners of the world, maybe even to North America. China has substituted Great Britain’s historic role as the “world’s factory,” but now it is possible to predict that China will be the “global pharmaceutical factory”.
A global geopolitical transition of power is inevitable if the Corona crisis continues its expansion into the Western financial, societal and political spheres. The virus now seems to be eroding the West and its main hegemon the United States from within.
At the same time America’s behavior towards its allies manifests itself in terms of huge crises both at the level of relations and rhetoric and in an inability to provide the necessary help to its allies at their time of greatest need and disaster.
The severest of measures need to be introduced in the West in order to withstand and rein back the current challenge, otherwise the West may face a total debacle both in terms of the societal stability of our societies and our geopolitical position in the world.
These elucidations of mine are admittedly pessimistic - they veer towards the negative end of possible scenarios - and will hopefully never be fulfilled.