There are many ways to think about Coronavirus. But there’s one way in particular that’s been nagging away at me — and I bet the same thought’s occurred to you, too. Coronavirus is a dry run for an apocalyptic future.
Coronavirus has caused all kinds of mayhem. Financial markets cratering. Borders closing. Whole nations under lockdown. Panic, like panic buying and hoarding. Catastrophic enough for you? We probably wouldn’t have imagined any of those things just a few short months ago, even though this was a troubled age.
And yet the truth is that Coronavirus is just a harbinger of things to come.Much, much bigger and far, far more…catastrophic…catastrophes. Like climate change. Like mass extinction. The waves of migration that ensue. The globe’s growing inequality and resource scarcity. And the authoritarianism all that, in turn, breeds. Let me put that another way.
The choice of catastrophes we face this century is genuinely stunning, staggering, beggars belief. Climate change? Check. Mass extinction? Check. Resource scarcity? Check. Ecological collapse? Financial crisis? Economic stagnation? Fast becoming depression? Runaway inequality? Failed global economy? Structural and institutional failure to respond to any of it well? Check, check, check. Can you think of another century like that? Perhaps the 13th, or maybe the 16th — but the examples, really, are few and far between. We are in a deep, deep mess, like probably never before in history. We have so many urgent and catastrophic problems as a world that they are all beginning to collide and intersect and explode, like mere wildfires becoming megafires — and if you doubt that, just take a look at what happens when an idiot demagogue is put in charge of a nation during a global pandemic: calamity is added to catastrophe.
That’s the simplest way to think about this age. Catastrophes aren’t just additive. An idiot President during a pandemic isn’t 2+2. It’s more like three to the power of three, or four to the power of four. The harm and damage and suffering explodes, multiplicatively, exponentially. Catastrophes multiply and multiply atop one another, in a kind of grim combinatorial mathematics of implosion — they don’t simply add up politely, cautiously, controllably, slowly. A demagogue in charge of a country during a pandemic is like dropping napalm on a megafire.
It’s in that way that Coronavirus is just a dry run for the future.