Sometimes history passes us by without our even noticing. We wake up one day and realise that presumptions we have about the world, our country, or society, are no longer true
Nations, companies, and institutions that seemed as permanent and secure as the stars in the sky disappear; the Soviet Union, General Motors Holden, Ian Chappell and Bill Lawrie commentating the cricket…
We may be reaching such a point with the coronavirus outbreak, not from the disease itself, seemingly no more fatal than a virulent form of flu, but with how it has exposed so many of the assumptions we hold about our world in the 21st century.
Like so many other sudden lurches in history, the experts, the pundits, the specialists, and authorities who claim prescience in such matters, seemed to have been caught flat-footed.
This appears to be the rule, rather than the exception for such events. How many of the super well-connected geo-political experts of the 1980s with their impeccable intelligence community contacts, for instance, predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the half-century Cold War in 1991?
Plenty of them though were wise beyond measure after the event. There was a whole publishing industry based around works like Francis Fukuyama’s famous 1992 opus, The End of History and the Last Man. This proposed that, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, humanity had reached “not just … the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history itself.”
Everywhere would be a social democracy with few wars and only the odd minor disputes over territory. it would be onwards and upwards to a Star Fleet future!
But, as it has a habit of doing, history suddenly started again on September 11, 2001 with a terrorist attack striking down the twin towers of the World Trade Center, two of the greatest symbols of American economic might in its greatest city, killing nearly 3000 people.
Again, no-one saw this coming, or the sudden rise of militant Islam that swept governments and societies aside throughout the Middle East and unleashed terrorist attacks throughout the west for a decade and the rise of the medieval barbarity of ISIS.
How many financial experts saw the 1987 stock market crash? Or the 2008 Global Financial crisis, zero interest rates, or the sub-prime mortgage crisis?
How many in Australia saw the rise of Pauline Hanson and One Nation, or seven changes of prime minister in 11 years… asylum seekers flooding our shores, huge public debt, terrorists’ attacks on Australian soil.
Up until the surprise election of Donald Trump in 2016 (an event which no political expert predicted) the world seemed set for a trajectory of increasing globalisation and the rise of China as a reasonably-benign world player that would gradually eclipse America and the Anglosphere in economic power and influence.
How many experts accused our Government of overreacting to the coronavirus that at first seemed to be one of those epidemics that break-out in third world countries from dubious hygiene and the close proximity of infected carriers to the rest of the population, but which is now close to being declared a pandemic?
Now we have travel bans, football stadiums empty, the Olympics in danger, schools and universities closed, empty streets on some of the largest cities in the world, knife fights over toilet paper…
While it may not be the disease itself that is so worrying, it’s how its spread has been exacerbated by international travel and its impact multiplied by interweaving international trade where factories shutting down in China leads to people unable to buy Chinese-made car parts in Australia.
It’s Australian universities financial dependence on Chinese students, major tech suppliers saying they are running out of stock because of their Chinese factories closing down, and even the world’s most powerful country, The United States, running short of drugs and medical equipment like facemasks and hand-wash, because they are all made in factories in China.
The upheavals on the world’s stock markets and economies from a disease that has so far infected less than 100,000 people with just over 3000 deaths (the flu kills about 400,000 people yearly) brings into question the whole presumption of a world increasingly interconnected socially, politically, economically, and physically.
In fact, a world medical expert believes that, due to the amount of overseas travel that we are now experiencing (about 1.4 billion trips each year), we are entering the “age of the pandemic.”
As well as being the most travelled and mobile generation in history, we are also historically and increasingly old, sick and unhealthy. We are not only the largest population in history (7.7 billion) but one that has been the most cosseted and protected from serious disease by a range of vaccines, penicillin’s, healthy diets, and hygiene practices.
When one thinks about it, one wonders how our leaders, economists, and health experts could not have seen this? Was it not obvious, in an interconnected financial world with supply chains spanning continents, that a health crisis in one would affect the whole system?
Most experts, leaders, and pundits, however, as well as being highly-bright, also generally possess large egos, boilerplate hides, and unbounded ambition. But even the most humble and self-aware all suffer from the presumptions of their profession, the received wisdom of the time; the invisible, masonic ties and beliefs of their trade.
Philosophically, many proponents of globalisation are invested in the dream of a world without borders, the end of the nation-state, seamless international travel (and international conferences and placements for themselves!) They support post-national bodies like the European Union and the United Nations.
In discussing the past, great American writer and punster Mark Twain once supposedly said: “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
What he meant was that, while current events rarely run exactly as in the past, the same factors and issues that led to the sudden lurches, upheavals, revolutions and wars in human society, remain constant.
It’s possible that we are now witnessing the slow collapse of the whole post-millennium internationalist trading regime that expected to eventually take-over all the world and do away with such peaky institutions as independent nations and national parliaments.
The average person shouldn’t rue its passing; international trade and porous borders are one of the most unreported but insidious reasons for the hollowing-out of the middle class in countries like America and Australia. They allow the super-rich to slosh their money around the world looking for the best returns and lowest taxes (and poorest-paid workers) and, when that fails, to import thousands of low-paid workers to keep downward pressure on local wages.
It is a corporate scam sold to the rest of us as the future of world peace, stability, prosperity, and fairness. As it’s well-paid mouthpieces in the corporate media and business world may be beginning to find-out, it’s now run into a new reality.
To adapt another of Twain’s witticism, “the reports of history’s death are greatly exaggerated.”