2020 was the Fear year. 2021 might be the Hunger year.
I’m very well aware that this is an awful oversimplification, but still, I think there’s value in exploring a little bit this path.
2020 was the year in which, for weeks, all airplanes on the planet were grounded and the sky was free from man made flights. Countries closed borders for months and people were confined inside their houses, day and night, without going out unless absolutely necessary (read: survival situations). Virtually all work became remote work. For almost the entire year we lived by statistics: how many contagious, how many dead, how many tests, how many days of confinement, how many vaccines approved, how many vaccines per day.
And all this was because of fear of an invisible threat: a virus.
We’re now just inches in 2021 but there are already some signs that this year might be the Hunger year. All the distancing, all the retreat in front of the unknown enemy created an enormous pressure on the economy. If you don’t like the term “economy”, you may replace it with the familiar image of a supermakret. When there is no pressure on the supermarket, the shelves are full. When there is pressure, well, the shelves are more or less empty.
Because we literally stopped almost all processes that were creating value between us, as communities, there is little, if any, value to be expected in the coming months. There are, of course, patches coming from the same sources that ordered and enforced confinement (governments, mostly), meaning there is a lot of money printing. Historically, money printing was always a bad idea. We may not see that yet because we’re still at the beginning of the process.
Restarting the economy might be a longer and much more difficult process than stopping it was. Not only because it is inherently slow, but the landscape is different now, we’re not operating under the same conditions like at the beginning of 2020. There might be sectors where jobs will disappear completely, or there might be replaced by automation or robots, which are immune to biological viruses (they’re not imune to informatic viruses, but that’s another topic, for another article). Travel industry might be coming down abruptly, for instance, while the entertainment industry will probably move into streaming and virtual reality. And so on and so forth.
Far from me the intention to paint an apocaliptic image of 2021. It’s just a small effort of trying to be prepared and navigate an already stormy ocean.
And, at least for me, the real question is not: “which is worse, fear or hunger”? But “how the fuck did we get here”? How the fuck did we get to choose between two wrongs?
How did we manage to overreact so badly, as species, to a threat which affects us all, equally? How come we didn’t scale faster the parts that could fence the threat, like the medical systems? We kept the same amount of military spending, which, I dare to remind you, is to protect each other from each other, but we didn’t increase the spending on medical infrastructure – I repeat, at a species level – to protect each other from an equal, invisible threat, that affects us all.
How come we are still clinging to a lifestyle which is clearly unfit for this new landscape, while doing little, if anything, to adjust to the new context? And by adjusting, I mean more cooperation, more interaction, more support, more understanding, more compassion. Which is the exact opposite of what we did as our primal reaction: fear, immobility, lack of interaction, confinement, paranoia.
I find these isolating, distancing and confining approaches saddening and deeply discomforting. Because 2020, and, to a certain extent, 2021, seem both like an early test of our level of preparation in front of a planetary extinction event.
Needless to say we failed miserably at this test, so far.