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How apocalyptic is now? The sudden death of ways of life has been a regular occurrence throughout history

History depends on rupture. Credit: Sergei FadeichevTASS via Getty Images

History depends on rupture. Credit: Sergei FadeichevTASS via Getty Images


May 13, 2020   6 mins

“If the term ‘apocalypse’ fits any event in recent world history, it is the Russian Civil War. This is not to suggest that the events of 1917-20 were the end of the world. The revolutionaries saw what was happening as the beginning of a new human order, and if they did not, in fact, establish a New Jerusalem, we can see, seventy years later, that they certainly created in Russia something remarkable and enduring. But their hold on power was bought at the price of great suffering and an unknown but terrible number of deaths — perhaps seven to ten million in all. War and strife, famine and pestilence — the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — devastated the largest country in Europe…”

Appearing at the start of the 1987 edition of the military historian Evan Mawdsley’s The Russian Civil War, this judgement resonates more deeply today. The system the Bolsheviks created has collapsed and vanished. A rebooted version of the Cheka, or All-Russian Extraordinary Commission — the secret police founded by Lenin that established the new society by the use of terror and, through its successors the OGPU, NKVD and KGB, shaped Soviet life until its end — continues to be the core of the Russian state. Yet the country it governs — featuring an oligarchical type of capitalism intertwined with state security structures, a restored Orthodox Church and a Eurasian-flavoured variety of imperialism — is unimaginably different from anything envisioned by the founders of the Soviet state.

An attempt to exterminate completely a section of humankind, the Holocaust was surely the most authentically apocalyptic episode in human history. Yet Russia’s civil war did display several of the features that go with an apocalyptic event. Understanding this neglected period may enable us to understand how far our own time is — and is not — an apocalyptic moment of this kind.

In waves of terror beginning in August 1918, when Lenin was injured in an attempted assassination, the new Soviet regime killed its own citizens on a previously unknown scale. During the two months that followed, around 15,000 people were executed for political crimes — more than twice the total number of prisoners of all kinds executed in the previous century of tsarist rule (6,321). Taken together, the casualties of the Revolution, the 1918 terror, the civil war and the ensuing famine cost the lives of around 25 million people in the territories of the former Tsarist empire — 18 times the number of casualties it incurred in the First World War (1.3 to 1.4 million.)

For the rulers of the new state, the breakdown of the old order was an opportunity to refashion society on a new model. “Former persons” — aristocrats, landlords and priests, together with anyone who employed others — were stripped of civil rights and denied ration cards and housing. Many dying of starvation or from hard labour in the concentration camps Lenin had established, these human remnants of the past watched as their entire way of life was erased. The same was true of the peasantry, whose recurrent rebellions were crushed with savage force. In the large-scale uprising in the Tambov region in 1920-21, Soviet forces used poisonous gas to clear forests into which the peasants had fled.

The famine that ensued killed around 5 million people in 1921-1922. The cause was not just drought and a bad harvest. As a result of the collapse of railways, health and waste disposal services, epidemic diseases such as typhus and cholera were rampant. Cities were depopulated and their wooden buildings demolished and used for firewood. Grain requisitioning and the export of agricultural produce created mass starvation of a peculiarly horrific kind. Russian may be the only language that contains two words for cannibalism. One — trupoyedstvo — denotes the eating of corpses, the other — lyudoyedstvo — killing in order to consume the victim. According to some reports at the time, public markets for human flesh appeared in famine-struck areas in which body parts from cadavers in the latter category commanded higher prices on account of their freshness.

If one of the meanings of apocalypse is a sudden shift to conditions that were hitherto almost unimaginable, this period of history certainly qualifies. But the years from 1917-23 were apocalyptic in another sense. The Soviet state was believed — by the new government and its progressivist camp-followers in the West, if not by the majority of Russians — to be building a society that would be better than any that had existed before. Curiously, the collapse of the Soviet state was greeted in the West with an outbreak of apocalyptic optimism much like that which accompanied its foundation.

On October 27, 1989, a couple of weeks before the Berlin Wall fell, I wrote:

What we are witnessing in the Soviet Union is not the end of history, but instead its resumption — and on decidedly traditional lines. All the evidence suggests that we are now moving back into an epoch that is classically historical…Ours is an era in which political ideology, liberal as much as Marxist, has a rapidly dwindling leverage on events, and more ancient, more primordial forces, nationalist and religious, fundamentalist and soon, perhaps, Malthusian, are contesting with each other…If the Soviet Union does indeed fall apart, that beneficent catastrophe will not inaugurate a new era of post-historical harmony, but a return to the classical terrain of history, a terrain of great-power rivalries, secret diplomacies and irredentist claims.

Visiting the US at the time, I was amused to find this view dismissed as apocalyptic pessimism. In think tanks, political gatherings and business conferences across the land, the fantastical notion that a new era had begun was embraced as sober realism. In line with this thinking, a number of Right-wing foundations cancelled their international relations programmes on the ground that foreign and defence policy would no longer be needed.

That a reversion to history as usual should be unthinkable testifies to the mind-numbing power of secular faith. While progressive ideologies are often divided into reformist and revolutionary varieties, the difference is not fundamental. Both rest on the faith that history is an accretive process in which meaning and value are conserved and increased.

Actually history is repeatedly punctuated by discontinuities in which what was gained is irrecoverably lost. Whether because of war or revolution, famine or epidemic — or a deadly combination, as in the Russian Civil War — the sudden death of ways of life is a regular occurrence. Certainly there are periods of incremental improvement, but they rarely last longer than two or three generations. Progress occurs in interludes when history is idling.

In the theistic religions from which the idea is derived, apocalypse means a final revelation that comes with the end of time. Elected during the Roman plague of 590 from which his predecessor Pelagius II had died, Pope Gregory the Great wrote: “The end of the world is no longer just predicted, but is revealing itself.”

But the world did not end; the four horsemen came and went, while history stumbled on. In the eschatological sense in which Gregory understood it, there is no such thing as apocalypse. But if it means the end of particular worlds that human beings have fashioned for themselves, apocalypse is a recurrent historical experience.

When you read diaries of people who lived through the revolution in Russia, you find them looking on in disbelief as the vast, centuries-old empire of the Romanovs melted into nothing in a matter of months. Few then accepted that the world they knew had gone forever. Even so, they were haunted by the suspicion that it would not return. Many had a similar experience in continental Europe when the Great War destroyed what Stefan Zweig, in his elegiac memoir The World of Yesterday (1941), called “the world of security”.

We find ourselves in an analogous time today. We will not wake up, after lockdown, in the same old world and find it just a bit worse, as the French novelist and provocateur Michel Houllebecq has asserted. (Dismissing the virus as “banal”, he observed that it is “not even sexually transmitted”. In fact recent reports suggest it may be transmissible through semen.)

Much in the way we lived before the virus is already irretrievable. Probably a vaccine will be developed along with treatments that reduce the virus’ lethality. But this will likely take years, and in the meantime our lives will have altered beyond recognition. Even when it arrives, a deus ex machina will not dispel popular dread of another wave of infections or a new virus. More than government-enforced policies, public attitudes will prevent any reversion to pre-Covid ways.

The relevant comparison here is not with previous pandemics such as the Spanish Flu, but instead the more recent impact of terrorism. The numbers killed in terrorist incidents may be small. But the threat is endemic, and the texture of everyday life has altered profoundly. Video cameras and security procedures in public places have become part of the way we live.

Covid-19 may not be an exceptionally lethal pathogen, but it is fearful enough. Soon temperature checks will be ubiquitous and surveillance via mobile phones omnipresent. Social distancing, in one form or another, will be entrenched everywhere beyond the home. The impact on the economy will be immeasurable. Enterprises that adapt quickly will thrive, but sectors that relied on pre-Covid lifestyles — pubs, restaurants, sporting events, discos and airline travel, for example — will shrink or disappear. The old life of carefree human intermingling will fast slip from memory.

Some occupations may gain in power and status. Health and care workers need more than applause for their efforts. Better pay and conditions will be demanded, and may well be achieved. Workers in other low-paid jobs and the gig economy are likely to fare more badly than before.

The impact on the “knowledge classes” will be far-reaching. Higher education operates on a model of student living that social distancing has rendered defunct. Museums, journalism, publishing and the arts all face similar shocks. Automation and artificial intelligence will wipe out swathes of middle class employment. Accelerating a trend that has been underway for decades, the remains of bourgeois life will be swept away.

As pre-Covid life fades into history, large sections of the professional classes face a version of the experience of those who became former persons in the abrupt historical shifts of the last century. The redundant bourgeoisie need not fear starvation or concentration camps, but the world they have inhabited is evanescing before their eyes. There is nothing novel in what they are experiencing. History is a succession of such apocalypses, and so far this one is milder than most.


John Gray is a political philosopher and author. His books include Seven Types of Atheism, False Dawn: the Delusions of Global Capitalism, and Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and The Death of Utopia.


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marksviljoen
MV
marksviljoen
3 years ago

I agree change is coming and also believe change is long overdue.
The actual uninflated number clearly show Covid 19 to be a complete non event in itself and the reality is that Big Pharma and governments all around the world have worked together to manipulate people.
The truth is the old democratic systems are fraught with corruption and abuse and only served to provide the masses with the illusion that they had some say in their destiny which is entirely untrue. It is time for an overhaul of the democratic system but the world’s politicians, who see the writing on the wall, are desperately striving to maintain their grip on their power by using excuses to exercise constitutionally illegal powers and by wiping out the educated middle classes.
Two things are guaranteed, ultimately change will come and it’s going to get very “messy”, mean and nasty before it does. All of mankind’s ruling systems have evolved throughout history in this manner and unfortunately such change does not come during a tea party discussion or over a beer in the pub!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  marksviljoen

Good post and I agree with the main thrust. That said, I’m not sure that the politicians see the writing on the wall. They seem to have things pretty well stitched up, from Brussels to Beijing, and there is very little we can do about it.

stephenmoriarty
stephenmoriarty
3 years ago
Reply to  marksviljoen

Isn’t that how the Bolsheviks thought?

TheSteelGeneral
T
TheSteelGeneral
3 years ago
Reply to  marksviljoen

Democracy has brought many, many GOOD things, and just because there’s now a megalomaniac criminal in the White House doesn’t mean that nothing works.

A Day in the Life of Joe Republican
Joe gets up at 6:00 am to prepare his morning coffee. He fills his pot full of good, clean drinking water because some liberal fought for minimum water quality standards. He takes his daily medication with his first swallow of coffee. His medications are safe to take because some liberal fought to insure their safety and efficacy. All but $10.00 of his medications are paid for by his employer’s medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance. Now Joe gets it too. He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs this day. Joe’s bacon is safe to eat because some liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry. Joe takes his morning shower, reaching for his shampoo; his bottle is properly labeled with every ingredient and the amount of its contents because some liberal fought for his right to know the amount and identity of the substances he was putting on his body.

Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some tree hugging liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air. He walks to the subway station for his government subsidized ride to work; it saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees. You see, some liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor to society. Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe’s employer upholds these standards because Joe’s employer doesn’t want his employees to call the union. If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed hell get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some Liberal didn’t think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

It’s noon time, Joe needs to make a Bank Deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe’s deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some liberal wanted to protect Joe’s money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the depression. Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some stupid liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime.

Joe is home from work, and he plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive to his dad’s; his car is among the safest in the world be cause some wacko liberal (Ralph Nader!) fought for car safety standards. He arrives at his boyhood home. He was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmer’s Home Administration because bankers didn’t want to make rural loans. The house didn’t have electricity until some big government liberal stuck his nose where it didn’t belong and demanded rural electrification. He is happy to see his dad who is now retired. His dad lives on Social Security and his union pension because some liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn’t have to.

After his visit with dad he gets back in his car for the ride home. He turns on a radio talk show. The host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn’t tell Joe that his beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefi that Joe enjoys throughout his day. Joe agrees. “We don’t need those big government liberals ruining our lives”, he says. “After all, I’m a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have”.

daniely
daniely
3 years ago
Reply to  marksviljoen

Agree with your last point–but don’t you think things could go better if we went about systems change intentionally, heeding the social science that says only 3.5% of the population is required to change regime?

David Utzschneider
DU
David Utzschneider
3 years ago

I enjoyed reading this article. I’m looking for one of you smart writers to explain the societal mechanisms that are causing the current disproportionate reaction to the coronavirus problem. As Nicholas Taleb says, COVID-19 is not a black swan, but something that we can expect to happen on a regular basis. Why/how has the world become so fragile?

TheSteelGeneral
TheSteelGeneral
3 years ago

the world is fragile because it’s increasingly complex. Not advocating some sort fake return to a “simpler world of the horse and buggy era” because infant mortality was high in those days.
But there needs to be a new robustness in life. Less interdependencies.

daniely
DY
daniely
3 years ago

Correlation is not causation. Do we have enough imagination to envision a possible civilization that is based on biological energy (“horse and buggy,” if you like), that also has a low infant mortality rate? It amazes me that when fantasizing about techno-utopias, people scoff at the notion of anything at all being impossible–but a decent quality of life without high technology? “It can’t be done!”

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

The last time the entire world was affected was the 1918 flu pandemic.

Is every hundred years your idea of a “regular basis”?

Paul Beardsell
Paul Beardsell
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

That is just untrue. Only two years ago 2017/18 in the UK there were 55,000 excess winter deaths (as conventionally counted – in excess over the average of the last 5 years). 2014/15 had peak deaths very high. The last week of 1999 had more deaths than any week than any of Covid-19. We are not talking a once-in-a-century event here even when talking dramatic named events such as this one, Covid-19. 1968/69 was the Hong Kong flu and 100,000 died of that USA alone without a Presidential speech on the subject and the USA continued operating as normal no lockdown. Woodstock even happened!

Jacques René Giguère
Jacques René Giguère
3 years ago

After the non-event of the Spanish flu which fortunately we escaped unscathed due to the absence of epidemiologists, we acquired herd immunity which enabled us to survive the second wave with only five times the non casualties of the first. At this point we really got that immunity which this time really really got us through the non-existant third wave which was at least as not bad as the first one.
The societal consequences were huge.
Thanks to the new learning-at-distance technology called « books » nobody ever went to school again. Newspapers sports stats spelled the end of spectator sports. Color printed magazines meant we never needed to visit national parks and so ended the whole travel industry. Recorded music destroyed the whole insanity of going to concerts and the telephone ended all in-person contact.
This comment is meant as an hommage to the article (which apart the recounting of the well-known Soviet abominations is pure drivel) and half the even worse comments.

Orla 28
Orla 28
3 years ago

Well said, Gray makes a living from the vague cloaked in verbosity.
I’m curious if he is still into communitarianism?

He said the following many years ago about a time when he supported Thatcher,it’s a great quote to keep in mind while reading the above –
“What I liked was Thatcherism’s Bolshevik aspect, which was to shake up the whole of Britain quite fundamentally”.

His weak point has always been his understanding of biochemistry, he seems to poorly grasp neodarwinism which was the dominant view of biology back in his day, he doesn’t seem to bothered to try apprehend the contemporary opposition to the neodarwinist view hence his continued view of no progress but just a little progress at times ,his bizarre and vague continued contradiction.
He now attempts to veer into virology…..

Gray the verbose broken clock.

davidlcrs
davidlcrs
3 years ago

Well balanced.Thankyou.
I am more fearful of the power we have given to the State, or rather that we have meekly surrendered in the name of the Precautionary principle.
Your example of the Cheka, introduced as a temporary measure for security, but retained permanently is a good example of the freedom we can lose if we do not argue against it.

mike otter
MO
mike otter
3 years ago

Touch of the mystic meg here. Did Russians stop drinking, arguing and copulating afte the White Russians were defeated? Did village cricket and the WI die off after 1918 – no. I am very happy to bet the author that aside from increased surveillance and SARS CoV 2 paranoia at airports and within the authorities little will change once the economic adjustment has been made and better business conditions return. The paranoia i mention above is no different to “reds under the bed”, “yellow peril” the “hippy menace” etc etc and will be replaced quickly with new Chimaera. FYI the 9K fees are more for the “Student experience” than the learning. Forget that parents will see the academics on zoom and think OMG i would not pay that person to push a broom, they will not pay 9k pa for what is almost free on MOOCs and TED talks.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  mike otter

‘FYI the 9K fees are more for the “Student experience” than the learning.’

I agree. And many of pointed this out by shouting at the radio when Clegg (or whichever dimwit it was) first announced the entire scheme in all its epic daftness. This does not alter the fact that the taxpayer will left on the hook for the vast majority of these fees.

mike otter
MO
mike otter
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I agree re tax payers footing the bill, and it will be a politician like Clegg or the US democrats or even bouncing Bojo who, unless their more sensible colleagues restrain them, will campaign on “Student debt cancellation” policy offer.

andy young
AY
andy young
3 years ago

“Meet the new boss.
Same as the old boss.”
P. Townshend 1971

kball68
KB
kball68
3 years ago

Wise as ever, and as ever unlikely to be mistaken for a ray of sunshine.

rharneis
RH
rharneis
3 years ago

No; you only have to read Pepys’ diary after the plague to realise that people pretty soon go back to their old ways.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago

The Russian analogy is surely ill-judged; the Russian Revolution had so drastic a transformative effect because the people who came out on top were committed to drastic transformation! Russia after 1917 proceeded along the same kind of radical pathway previously followed by France after 1789 because of the personalities and priorities of those involved. If Kerensky had had the sense to end Russian participation in World War I, the Communist Revolution would never have occurred, and the Russia of the 1920s would have been much more like France after 1870. There would have been shocks and suffering, but bourgeois life and culture would have continued.

By comparison, the Second World War – an equally apocalyptic event – was followed in democratic Western Europe by policies designed to stabilise and to ensure that a reversion to some kind of “normal life” was possible. The major difference between the pre-war and postwar periods was that jobs became more secure and health care and education more readily available – which in turn made it easier for people to marry and raise children (compare European fertility rates in the 1930s with those in the 1950s). Again, the issue was not the nature of the conflict, but the matter of who got to be in charge afterwards: the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats who ran most of Western Europe in the early postwar decades were stabilising rather than disruptive forces.

COVID-19 may change things radically, or it may not. But that will have little to do with the nature of the virus, and much to do with the nature of those who govern and influence us. For instance, John Gray writes that “Higher education operates on a model of student living that social distancing has rendered defunct.” The truth, rather, is that the managerial and technocratic class that determines the direction of higher education actively wants to render that model defunct, because they want to shift teaching online. They have wanted this for a long time, and this is their opportunity; so that’s probably what will happen. But if we had managers who were committed to the old-fashioned ideal that teaching is above all about building relations of trust and care between lecturers and students, then they would be trying to find mechanisms to ensure face-to-face teaching resumed as soon as possible. If COVID-19 does lead to drastic transformations of the way we live, it will be straightforwardly because our political and business leaders believe in creative destruction, are contemptuous of established norms and institutions, and, in the final analysis, are people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Alan Everton
AE
Alan Everton
3 years ago

Somebody’s been drinking the Imperial College kool-aid. The only real and lasting change will be a beneficial one – the much greater degree of skepticism that greets ‘experts’ and their models.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Impressive stuff from Mr Gray, as always. I have a few of his books on my shelves, and so should everyone else.

Dr Irene Lancaster
Dr Irene Lancaster
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I think we should watch what happens in Israel, which encourages out of the box thinking and is now working on new kinds of work patterns.

Mark Smith
MS
Mark Smith
3 years ago

I suspect the virus will, on the whole peter out in a few months and we will be left with a massive economic headache which will take years to recover from. But by and large life will continue as is.

But if not, I cannot see pubs, restaurants, sporting events, discos (who goes to discos these days anyway!!) disappearing and shrinking. Air travel maybe. More likely, with social distancing in place, pubs, restaurants et al, will have to rise prices due to fewer customers. The rise in prices is unlikely to subdue demand that much. (Come on, who doesn’t want a drink and a meal after all of this!!) Instead, people will prioritise their spending in the direction of the hospitality sector. This will mean an increase in new establishments to meet the demand.

Basil Chamberlain
BC
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Smith

What I expect to happen to air travel is that the model of the budget flight will be unsustainable. We will return to the norm of thirty years ago, where the cost of a flight was a substantial portion of the overall cost of a holiday abroad. Hopefully the outcome will be that most travellers give up on superficial city breaks, and instead gravitate toward two- or three-week holidays allowing them to travel around from city to city, town to village – a type of travel that offers a much more grounded, contextualised sense of a place anyway.

Ken Barrett
KB
Ken Barrett
3 years ago

The final few paragraphs of this piece are drivel. Almost nothing will change. Pubs, restaurants, travel, public gatherings will resume. Social distancing will become a memory, because it is to us, as human beings, unnatural. What we will be left with is an enhanced attitude towards personal hygiene, greater respect for lower-paid public sector workers, greater scorn for our media commentators, a shrewder attitude towards the health services, and of course a massive and enduring budget deficit.

Neil Holdsworth
NH
Neil Holdsworth
3 years ago
Reply to  Ken Barrett

I agree. It is a major change, but one that is not that dramatic. The changes will probably be mundane, like people won’t shake hands anymore; a lot of business travel will cease; people will work from home more, there will be more videoconferencing. It is too early to predict the death of the middle classes, or the universities off the back of COVID-19. I’ve read a lot of his books and admire his work, but I don’t really understand how the author can be so certain about this.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
3 years ago
Reply to  Ken Barrett

…well isn’t your future picture just the sort that JD suggests is likely?

Alexander Allan
Alexander Allan
3 years ago

The historical side of the article is very interesting. Thank you. However I disagree with the prognosis of how the future will unfold. It will be worse than imagines

Nigel Clarke
NC
Nigel Clarke
3 years ago

Vive l’avenir! …peut être….

jill dowling
jill dowling
3 years ago

As if I wasn’t depressed enough…

D.C.S Turner
D.C.S Turner
3 years ago

What is the relationship between the first half of this essay and the second?

Nigel Clarke
NC
Nigel Clarke
3 years ago
Reply to  D.C.S Turner

Social Distancing, innit! 2m, don’t you watch the 6 o’clock views…

Niko Lourotos
Niko Lourotos
3 years ago

Haha, nice try! Yet another “the new normal” diatrebe. Except there is no “new” normal, no “death of your way of life” to speak of. There is no need for SARS2 to affect humanity any more than SARS1 did. Unless you arvocating such change, that is, for reasons that have nothing to do with any virus.

This is not an analysis. it is propaganda.

daniely
daniely
3 years ago
Reply to  Niko Lourotos

The COVID crisis reveals the severe vulnerabilities of modern globalized civilization. Democrat or Republican has nothing to do with it. Both parties advocate endless economic growth, business as usual–as climate data and compounding crises announce to all those whose brains are not bobbing in a pool of neo-liberal ideology: “the party is over.”

You want analysis? Look at the food crisis that is unfolding. A small handful of corporations dominate the meat industry: vertical integration, monopoly, profit maximization at the expense of…. well, everything. Very good at making a small group of rich people richer–very poor in terms of system resilience. Viral breakout in a handful of processing plants, and in no time, the industry is brought to its knees.

Of course we see the identical pattern in healthcare, politics, manufacturing, energy.

The insistence on going “back to normal” brings to mind a psychopath beating a dead, rotting horse, trying to get it back up again, ignoring the pleas of disturbed onlookers to… move on.

Robin Bury
Robin Bury
3 years ago

Please physical distancing NOT social distancing. WHO recommends this. The Russian history is very revealing and barbaric. But the forecast is well like all forecaasts, a bit of guess work. I skip all articles forecasting the future and stick with the here and now and facts of history.

Paul Beardsell
Paul Beardsell
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin Bury

What’s the point of history unless it is used to consider the future?

John Jones
JJ
John Jones
3 years ago

Many posters here are making the claim that the experts were wrong, that the pandemic was never much of a threat, that the lockdown was excessive, essentially parroting Trump’s talking points.

This poor reasoning is due to a confusion of cause and effect. Years ago, we dealt with the excess SO2 produced by American smokestacks producing acid rain by placing scrubbers in the stacks, eliminating the SO2. People then argued that the expense of scrubbers was unnecessary, because the SO2 had disappeared. The same kind of poor reasoning is evident here.

The reality is that we have managed to hold infections and deaths down only because of the lockdown and social distancing measures. People point to Sweden as if it were some kind of success. The Swedes have one of the highest mortality rates in the world, 361 per million, surpassed only by places such as the UK and Italy, which bungled the process from the beginning. The reality is that those jurisdictions that jumped on the spread quickly, such as S. Korea and Japan, have managed to hold down deaths and infections much better, to only 5 deaths per million.

Nor does it make sense to claim that this is no different from the flu. The flu kills 39 to 62 thousand people per year in the States on an infection rate of 56 million. Covid has already killed 80,000 on an infection rate of one million, making it many times more deadly. Nor do we have a vaccine or herd immunity to covid, unlike the flu. The flu infects one billion people worldwide. The potential is for covid to infect everyone.

Let’s have less of this “The pandemic was a hoax, the lockdown wasn’t necessary, the experts know nothing” nonsense. Instead, keep your eyes on the Republican States in the US, which are now flouting the experts’ advice.

Let’s see how they’re doing a month from now.

Paul Beardsell
Paul Beardsell
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

Every position has an internal consistency and your does but that’s because of confirmation bias. You refuse to consider alternative points of view. Sunetra Gupta’s interview here on Unherd would be a good starting point.

Every point you make is challenge-able and I am tempted to challenge each. But others do it better than me, you must be or ought be aware of the arguments, but you dismiss them all, seemingly giving them no weight at all!

echoalphakilo57
echoalphakilo57
3 years ago

The Global Village Empire suffered a setback with Brexit and Trump, but it has decided to run the Operation Covert 20 Scenario anyhow. All the wars throughout history could not have pulled this effect on the worlds economies. Amazing how the fear of something invisible could do this. It’s like the threat of ‘god’ has finally been realised – in fact no single religion could have achieved this either.

Instantaneous global comms have secured the fearful compliance of almost everyone – the acting has been spectacular on all stages. Academy awards all around. Who needs Holly, Nolly and Bolly Woods. The Horror movie genre has met it’s match with the real world!

However, Operation Covert 20 has been successful in bringing the potential threat of Plague to every doorstep. Call it a case of mass vaccination – the goal of achieving awareness with merely a tiny casualty list. Well done to those who crafted the Covid 19 virus. It has fulfilled the Empire’s precise requirements correctly. Will the cause ever be found or will the investigating nations not in the circle be fobbed off with a vague explanation and will be only to pleased to just get on with the global convalescence?

TheSteelGeneral
TheSteelGeneral
3 years ago

Nice essay, it demonstrates the dangers of analogy quite nicely: The Russian Revolution is so, so, SOOO unlike Covid19! I mean, if you wanna write about that, write about that, but please, refrain from tired old comparisons.

Yes, there will be changes, but the author underestimates the yearning factor. There are a lot of people who will yearn for the carefree way of life they had, especially the young ones.
The author doesn’t predict, so allow me: people will stop giving a FQQQ about social distancing, and they will enforce unplanned herd immunity (aka WILD herd immunity). This will be accompanied by millions of deaths. Maybe 4-5 million per year. After we’ve reached herd immunity, normal schedules will be resumed. I am not very optimistic about greening the world. For a greener world, optimum conditions need to be there. This is not as yet, the case.

seniorjunior99
seniorjunior99
3 years ago

Sudden disruptive events are simply more visible to us narrow-horizon critters. We evolved to handle things on short timelines. Long-term perspectives are artifacts of our recently evolved intelligence and other big brain capabilities. Because disruptions of existing conditions can be either slow or fast (“slow” = multi-generational), our responses are as much a part of the disruption as the primary cause. Climate change is slow, technological disrupters of labor is medium, Pandemics are fast. AI, and its soon-to-be-upon-us offspring superintelligence, will be all over us soon. It may be faster than we foresee.
One year ago, almost exactly, I responded to other cries (in the stuff I read) for “getting back to normality” with something rude like ‘It’s never gonna happen” in a blog post. Can we plug our blogs here in Unherd? https://seniorjunior.blogsp
I’ll test it. If I’m violating policy, sorry.

V L
V L
3 years ago

Does John Gray ever replies to these comments?

Paul Beardsell
Paul Beardsell
3 years ago
Reply to  V L

Only the intelligent ones.

Michael Baldwin
Michael Baldwin
3 years ago

“More than government-enforced policies, public attitudes will prevent any reversion to pre-Covid ways.”

No, this is mistaken.

Nature is far more powerful than any government policy.

The social distancing principle that the lockdown is based upon, is perhaps the most counter-Nature policy every devised by a government in any era, and it is not actually very far from genocide.

As it seriously if followed restricts the ability of ordinary people to date and mate, which apart from survival itself, and sometimes even at risk of it, is the fundamental human biological drive.

Social distancing is in practice unenforcable, as you are never going to stop the population from becoming intimate with each other, in a way that will deliver any virus through most of the population in a very short space of time.

And as soon as that becomes clear to the currently deluded people in authority, who still believe they can control a virus, because of the lies coming out of China that they have successfully done so, which sooner or later will be overturned, they will end the madness.

The only real change will be economic damage, from which we will eventually recover, and a very diminished level of trust in government.

Which has been brewing for a long time anyway, especially after the MP expenses scandal, and the growing belief and awareness that none of the main parties is actually offering a different agenda; which happened briefly under Jeremy Corbyn, but has now been extinguished once again, by the “liberal Blairite assassins” in the Labour party and their media cohorts and co-conspirators.

The 2016 referendum and Brexit vote was probably the most powerful demonstration of democracy exhibited by the British public since the Second World War, when they voted out Churchill and elected socialist Attlee who brought in the NHS, pensions and the welfare state.

That was really the beginning of real democracy in modern times, and when the public figure out that they are no longer getting it, which has been the case since 2016, as the Brexit vote has still not been put properly into reality, they are going to be looking harder at the voting system which only briefly allowed that voice in 2016, and now has silenced them again.

And how they are now apparently living in a dictatorship in which they are not even allowed to protest.

The public may look submissive for now, but not much longer.

A recent poll has said that while 82% will put up with the lockdown until June, that goes down to 69% for July and down to 44% for August.

The public is actually more politically active now than it has ever been, largely fuelled by the online platform of the Internet.

But though that can be destructive at times, ultimately it is the vehicle for a drive for freedom, with political debates like on this website now happening all over the Internet.

What will eventually result will be accountable government.

It will be the dawn of real democracy and accountability that will eventually result from this mess, for the public had to see the danger of that lack of accountability that they are currently seeing worldwide, before they would in large enough numbers finally be motivated to act to change things.

If Boris Johnson is really a democratically elected representative of the public, because he is trying to fundamentally change the nature of our lives and freedom, with a policy of mass imprisonment, for which he has not stated there will ever be any definite end – as he has not said the virus will ever go, and freedom is dependent on this “R number” which can also not ever be certainly predicted – he should give the public either a referendum or an election, to see if they wish to be subjected to this continual house arrest and denial of their fundamental human rights.

The right to meet other citizens at close quarters without any fear; the right to choose whether to cower in fear from a virus that isn’t proven deadly to anybody hardly but the old and already in poor health, or not; and so on.

He’s acting like a dictator, and that’s the part he needs to address, or the mass rebellion which always occurs sooner or later in dictatorships will soon come upon him.

I believe the only way out of this for him is he should resign, as he has dug himself a hole so deep with this lockdown, that there is no way out again, except to hand the job over to somebody else.

Who can then admit a wrong course has been taken, and convince the public that this was only ever taken on the basis of misguided scientific advice.

A plausible excuse can be made, that as Mr Johnson himself was badly affected by the virus, and with a pregnant partner, he made poor decisions while under enormous pressure and seriously compromised physical and mental health, and I for one will certainly forgive him as long as he acknowledges his error even by proxy, by such resignation.