The World Gone Mad?: Short Thoughts About The Present
The past few years have a tendency to make the world gone mad. Many events have hit us like giant waves and the most important ones are still receding. The Covid pandemic and the War in Ukraine shook the calmness of our daily existence. Hopes and ambitions were put on hold, delayed, and maybe even crushed. It is easy to see where the future seems somewhat bleak at the moment. We were used to gentler times, at least in the West, but now this peace is under threat.
Two years of the pandemic
The Covid-19 virus took the life of at least 6.35 million people with another 554 million cases. Some of the survivors might still suffer from side-effects, also known as long-Covid. While living normal lives, many now cannot eat simple things like garlic or onions after they lost their sense of smell and taste. But there are also important consequences of social and psychological nature which afflict us now.
Social and Psychological Consequences
People are more isolated from each other in two ways. Firstly, it was for their own safety. However, this one was partly overcome through the help of technology. Many of us took to working from home. We discovered to new ways of managing our times and of interacting with colleagues. Professors and teachers learnt to communicate with students through laptops and mobiles. In a sense, this forced to improvise and adapt in order to overcome. But, this is of little comfort, as problems are far graver.
The pandemic deepened the polarisation of people. Some denied the raging pandemic and later the vaccine while the rest condemned them viciously. It was like we were witnessing the death of people’s faith in science. This was because they either lack the knowledge to understand or because they feel left out, making them distrust the establishment. It was made worse by social media and how it helps spread toxicity.
Restrictions and lockdowns hit the economy in ways we still try to understand. Everything slowed down, many people lost their jobs and insecurity gripped the world. This only further infuriated people and made them loose what trust they still held in the authorities. The virus is now somewhat under control, but this did not mean a sudden move back to normality. Instead, we find that it takes longer. We seem unprepared even for this part of the story.
The War in Ukraine
Most hoped Putin’s threats were a ploy to gain concessions and recognition abroad and at home. This, even when he massed nearly 200 thousand troops on the border. It was because people still held for for normality after the pandemic. A war on a mass scale would have threatened dreams of reconstruction and recovering what was suspended or lost.
It also seemed that Putin would not be crazy enough to put his country through the tribulations of international isolation or the high price of a protracted conflict. But this was many of us believing he would think like us and seek comfort. A dictator’s megalomania and delusions of grandeur should hardly ever be ignored. Especially, if he is sitting on the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons.
The consequences are grave for the entire world. The price of energy surges and makes life more expensive. Grain no longer flows as it should, developing countries in the Middle East and Africa are at risk of being hit by hunger. This, in turn, will cause a wave of migration which could further destabilise our world. In fact, Putin insists on the negative impact of stopping grain exports and uses this as an instrument of coercion, a food weapon.
The Rise of China
We are entering a new phase of geopolitics as economic and international relations are being re-shaped by the rise of China. In 2006, historian Niall Ferguson proposed an interesting term, Chimerica. It described the symbiotic economic relationship between the United States of America and China. However, since then the idea and the interactions between the two colossuses has changed.
China is expanding its influence through investments in developing countries, such as Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Ethiopia, or Pakistan. However, its interests are not that much bilateral, as they seek to project power. The best example comes from Sri Lanka, where they financed the construction of a port which would obviously fail. But, they were more interested in getting it as a lease once the debtor state could not pay the loan. The same nearly happened to Montenegro, which was saved by the European Union.
These transformation shift the way the economy works on a global scale. Trade routes and previous patterns are changing radically. This process was underway before the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. However, they have accelerated the pace at which this is happening. Because of their fundamental impact, ordinary people feel the effects in terms of their daily living standards and quality of life.
So, has the world gone mad? Obviously, we are living times of transformation and consequently, a certain level of instability. However, history is full of upheavals and periods which seem more grim. But, there have been many prophets of doom in the past as well, yet, the doomsday has not come. Of course, we should not rely on destiny to help us ride out the storm, but rather we should focus on braving temporary adversity and on finding solutions, be they small or grand.
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- Niall Ferguson, Moritz Schularick, The End of Chimerica.
- Andrew Browne, The Chimera that was ‘Chimerica’, Bloomberg, July 11, 2020.
- Reid Standish, New Study Says China Using Investments To Buy Political Influence In Central, Eastern Europe, Radio Free Europe, September 09, 2021.
- Thomas Carothers, Andrew O’Donohue, Polarization and the Pandemic, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 28, 2020.
- Elizabeth Kolbert, How Politics Got So Polarized, The New Yorker, December 27, 2021.
Originally published at https://www.theworldbriefly.com on July 11, 2022.