Post-COVID-19 Worlds

WHAT IS COVIDESQUE

April 10, 2020

Through working on “Post-COVID-19 Worlds” I came to the idea that the current pandemic, when viewed in the hindsight, would probably be considered the first impactful instance in a series of events, leading to a major planetary change. COVID-19 outbreak will be remembered for its impacts, intensity, and precedency, thus rightfully holding the right to name the category of crises it represents at the moment; Covidesque.

Covidesque is every event that has the following criteria:

  • It reaches beyond national borders;
  • It is initially originated from non-human sources or it has decisive non-human players; (I refused to use the word “natural” here.)
  • It causes serious wicked problems for the majority of the planet’s population;
  • It affects populations disproportionately;
  • It is foreseeable and/or warned about;
  • There is institutional inertia against proper preparation for it. (Mainly due to conflicts of interest and baseless denial.)

Examples: Climate Changes, Wildfire, Contagious Disease Outbreak, etc.

April 4, 2020

Note: The following form is for submitting your descriptions of a Post-COVID-19 World. You may fill a new form for any of the scenarios. You may also fill this form in any language. Please use the matrix below to choose the scenario you want to write about. I decided to color-code them for ease of use. (Any resemblance between these colors and current political parties and movements is accidental and irrelevant) You may also attach any files, including images, text, etc. You can also insert links in the description box. Please let me know here if you had any problems with this form.

(*=Required)

Name

Email

Scenario*

Description*

 I authorize any use of this material by "post-COVID-19 Worlds" project.

March 30, 2020

Some Thoughts

I am concluding many of my thoughts and issues regarding this project in the soundtrack above.
My final act on this phase of the project is to ask potential participants to start the worldbuilding process. I would ask the participants of the previous workshop to fill the form on this page. Worldbuilding, as much as has storytelling routs, is a crucial step in scenario development. Following this step, we can arrange a profile of scenarios.

March 25, 2020

During these past days, I talked to so many people about this project and discussed various ideas. The first step in encounters with those who were not familiar with futures studies and this method, in particular, was to educate them. I held a live meeting on Instagram. I first gave a quick lecture on what I’m doing and then used the platform’s limited capabilities to brainstorm the possible forces that may shape the new axis of the matrix. After that, I talked to some members of my audience to further discuss the matter and our findings.

A New Axis: AXIS II

The participants were presented with the first axis, henceforth AXIS I. I recently read a piece by Yuval Harari pointing at some of the issues related to my AXIS I. I can’t say this confirms my ideas but it surely empowers the narrative. After introducing the AXIS I, I asked participants to suggest the force contributing to AXIS II.  

Our first challenge was to define what a force (in futures literature) is. many of the participants mentioned broad terms like technology, energy, human behavior, etc. This particular problem had occurred in at least two of my previous workshops. It takes time for people to imagine a control panel for the world, with knobs that can increase or decrease different qualities and characteristics in the system. When they understand this, they may feel more comfortable with finding actual driving forces.

We finally gathered the opinions and I even asked some of the participants to join the live meeting and argue their cases. I finally chose the most dominant proposal for the second axis; Science vs. Story. Throughout history, you can find examples of societies driven by rational, factual motivations or narratives. I can go through and talk about these qualities but I leave this here because I think as much information as is being shared now, keeps the audience imagining’ and that is something I am going to need soon. (For better understanding this axis you may read: Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy by Stephen Duncombe.)

Sometimes, the best way to show an axis of change is by comparing values associated with either side. (Probably this is something I learned from Dunne & Raby’s A/B) The following graph is a very rough representation of the two axes and the beliefs related to them. One can understand these dualities in belief systems having a “vs.” in mind; Analysis vs. Synthesis, Progressive vs. Conservative, etc.

The naming of the axes was another challenge of its own. I finally ended up with Conservative and Progressive for AXIS I and Experiment and Narrative for AXIS II. I understand the complexity of these words and the meanings they hold but we need labels to be able to refer to things. I also gave them numbers to make the addressing process even more clear.

A Note on Generality of the Matrix

This matrix is no longer specific to COVID-19. As we elaborate on the problem during this past month, I concluded that to better understand the current situation, we need to step backward and see a broader picture. This pandemic cannot be fully understood unless we see it as a fast-forward version of a certain kind of global crisis; The ones that we can foresee but are so weak or inert to prepare for.
Other examples of such problems are global warming, wealth gap, etc. My point here is that although from this pandemic a new normal will emerge, this is not a very unique incident. The matrix we have here can probably address more incoming problems of such nature.

March 22, 2020

March 18, 2020

In the days of quarantine, proper communication is one of the harder things to achieve. This is more evident in the light of mental issues that occur during “social distancing.” I open with these excuses for returning this late to update the scenario profile. I spent some time discussing this short essay with my colleagues and friends while observing for more trends as the story unfolded. I specifically talked to my futurist friend, Radman Khorshidian. He recorded our latest conversation.

The Conversation is in Farsi

We talked about a variety of subjects. If you understand Farsi, I recommend you listening to our conversation since it can provide good insight into how futurists think (and how they don’t.) If you do not understand Farsi you are not missing much since I will summarize the part that is the most important to this work.
My friend and I came to this conclusion that the number of issues, our current world is failing to address properly (climate changes, wealth gap, pandemics, etc.) is increasing to a worrisome degree that may push people to think of an actual alternative for the current system.
The key question is if we want more isolated nation-states (or other jurisdictions) or more effective global authority. Both of these alternatives, one more conservative and the other more progressive, may solve the problem, but in very different manners.

The Great Duality

You have probably seen the following graph during this past week. It has been shared in all major trustworthy news outlets around the globe. they usually provide no precise quantities on the axes. It is just a schematic presentation of an idea; the longer the pandemic takes, the better the healthcare system can cope with and respond to the situation. They (the authority, just as vague as this graph itself is) propose that instead of dealing with so many patients at once or in a relatively short period, they would rather face the problem through a long time. It seems like being in debt to the pandemic and the healthcare authorities are trying to receive a bailout package from the public by encouraging them to stay home. (They specifically are in a denial about obvious hardships. they want to keep people in quarantine without accepting a reward system or use of force.) The system cannot afford the pandemic and the events of this past month have left no doubt about how poor and ill-prepared it is.

This graph made me more confident in the choice of my two main axes. This shows that the two most critical factors in the problem are most-probably time and casualty. This graph also shows some collective motivations as to how we would like this pandemic to unfold. We (an apparent consensus between the authority and the people) want to spread this pandemic through time, thus taking more time to deal with the issue. In essence, we want to procrastinate a remedy in the hope that the curve will reverse or we may find a cure, a vaccine, or even an improbable miracle of chance.

The consequences of such delay and spread in time are not yet fully clear to us. Some of the factors and effects of, let’s say, a year-long global quarantine are not even comprehensible for the general public; what would happen to global trade, monetary systems, societies’ morals, etc. The list is terrifyingly long, considering that these are just the primary effects.

So here we are accepting one scenario that we (at least think that we) understand over one that we don’t. I can demonstrate this in a duality using the matrix of scenarios I drew previously.

As you can see, on the left we have the scenario that we believe may work the best, essentially our preferable scenario. We hope to turn A to B and crawl just under the system’s limits. On the right is the one that I think is the preferable scenario for the global community in the long run despite its higher number of casualties. I hope that we can move the healthcare capacity from A to B by showing and believing that what lacks is a better, more efficient and well-equipped healthcare system, not a considerate public in the face of uncertain pandemics.

The point that matters more than “which of these scenarios is preferable?” is how inherent this duality is to our main problem of post-COVID-19 scenarios. This is a clear duality and a case of sensitive dependence on initial conditions. This means that the global system that is the subject matter of our studies and observations is metaphorically falling on a peak and may roll to each hillside; A moderately conservative world that values the individual’s efforts in the face of public crises or a more regulated world with well-developed institutions that encourages critical thinking and progress. I am yet to put a name on these two conditions but I think there lies an axis that should be put on a new matrix.

A New Axis

This is a developing work. I paused to share the new findings and updates. So far, I have one wildcard scenario (Total Collapse) and a new axis. All the rest are losing their probabilities and/or significance in light of new events, discussions, readings, and thoughts. I will talk to a knowledgeable colleague this weekend and discuss these matters with him as well. After that, I will publish a new portfolio of scenarios with more debt and details. I hope to receive comments on this ongoing work since the comments are a powerful mental drive as well as an intellectual one.


March 01, 2020

COVID-19 is an infant of the 20s. While its name still carries the year it was first recognized, the impacts of its outbreak would be felt throughout the 20s and even beyond. I am writing this short piece while being self-quarantined at home for the sixth consecutive day with little to no hope for this situation to end soon.

During the past few days, I started to think about the possible outcomes of the outbreak; How our world will emerge on the other side. I studied very briefly and I tried to put together some historical precedents as well as the current state of global affairs as we are familiar with. Therefore, this is not a deep and thorough work of futures studies.

The following scenarios have not resulted from carefully following a single method or any methods at all. I accept that I was more reliant on my judgment and educated guesses. However, there is a backbone here that I want to briefly discuss not to prove myself right but to show how I reached these scenarios.

As legendary Peter Schwartz suggests, there are hardly more than two actual driving forces at play in any given problem and time horizon, considering that those two are completely irrelevant to one another and uncertain to us. In our current problem (post-COVID-19 scenarios), one of these factors/forces seems to be obvious; the total number of casualties. The case here is very clear; a post-COVID-19 world with 5 thousand deaths caused by the disease is drastically different from one with 5 million. The other factor (the one that you may rightfully argue with me about) is the duration of the crisis (Here I accepted, as evidence suggests, that a pandemic either is happening or will happen, thus I have not considered the severity of its geographical spread). The longer the crisis, the lower the social moral and the more broken the economy would be. The social force for change should never be underestimated.

The black plague killed between 30 to 60 percent of Europe’s population. The same proportions applied to the current world population will cause casualties between 2.5 and 4.5 billion people, roughly speaking. Let’s put this at one end of our spectrum, even though it sounds to be dramatically out of the ballpark. On the other side of the spectrum, 10,000 sounds like a number the most optimists would suggest. For the duration, consider that more than two months have already passed without an absolute majority of the world population even feeling the pandemic in their daily lives; quarantine, food and supply shortage, blackouts, etc.. On the other hand, a virus outbreak, for several reasons cannot survive longer spans, unless it evolves during the process; something that should not be neglected. Considering all these concerns, I think two years can be put to the top of our graph (Not because it is the longest possible period for the pandemic but because any span longer than this adds no meaning to our equations). Just to toss some fun to the story and since I like April Fool’s jokes, I put April first as the most optimistic end for this pandemic.

This line of thinking produces a matrix, a device for thinking of different worlds:

  1. Life as Usual: The world is proud of its health infrastructure, crisis management, and effective response. Some problems should be addressed, maybe during the next WHO assembly when authorities drink champagne and pose for their victory photos. Most of the casualties were among economically weaker members of the society; all celebrities, world leaders, managers, and CEOs are alive and well. The current paradigm in public health becomes stronger not merely through its achievements but also its well-told mythology and legends. This post-COVID-19 world looks like a more open and proud version of our current global society with all the same underlying structures.
  2. Military Strikes Back: During the pandemic, the public was outraged by the ways the authority was dealing with the situation. Absolute quarantines were imposed under more authoritarian governments. This meant more dependency on the military for the (often) less prosperous nations of the world. A surge of funding to the military in countries like the US, Russia, China, etc. empowered the military and militaristic views as well. After the crisis, the military is praised for its achievements. This scenario shows a right-leaning, nation-state-driven world with even more anti-globalist policies.
  3. Total Collapse: There is never a “total collapse,” yet this one is as close as we can get to that point. The social order and governance in many countries collapse. The world faced a new refugee problem that affected even the wealthiest and the most prepared nations (e.g. Switzerland). Central governments were not capable of controlling the situation and many smaller ones collapsed in chaos and terror. In a lack of proper distribution of information on the pandemic, it will take some noticeable time for small groups of people to form new social orders and it is not clear at this point which direction these groups might be heading in terms of their sociopolitical ideas.
  4. Dawn of Public Health for All: The world is in great shock and the public demands answers. The economy experienced near-death situations yet is recoverable from the ashes of its past. The public in most countries asks more effective public health that can and will go beyond local politics. This pushes the politics to the left and ultimately caused a fundamental change to global health institutions. It will affect the way we understand the entanglement of public health with global trade, transportation, etc. and may finally become a ground for effectively talking about important issues like climate change.

These Scenarios will map our current world into worlds with different properties in two dimensions; If the new world is more authoritarian or libertarian and if there are more local-leaning or global-leaning policies.

As time moves forward, many of the assumptions I made (Specifically those concerning the uncertainty of the forces) might become irrelevant or wrong. I will try to update these scenarios and adjust accordingly. I hope to receive my colleagues’ comments on this.