Predicting The Future

It’s impossible to pick up a magazine or log into a blog or website without coming across an article predicting how dramatically the Coronavirus pandemic will change the world.

As Steven Pearlstein recently wrote in the Washington Post,  self-appointed soothsayers are predicting the demise of globalization, the triumph of large enterprises over small business, and dramatic lifestyle changes brought about by fear of dangerous microbes:
everything from diminished travel, as people “think twice about boarding an airplane, checking into a hotel, attending a concert or taking their kids to Disney World” to the emptying out of expensive cities, since so many of us–and our employers– have discovered that we can work just as well from home.

Time to take a deep breath.

I certainly don’t have a crystal ball–nor do I claim any particular expertise in “futurism,” but these predictions strike me as fanciful at best and absurd at worst. Just look at how desperately people are returning to their previous behaviors, even in the face of warnings that it is dangerously early for such return. Humans are creatures of habit.

We are dependent upon those international supply chains. Our families are scattered around the globe, and we still want to visit them. Often, on airplanes. Etc.  Although there is likely to be movement toward remote work, that movement has been underway for quite some time, and it is necessarily limited–not just because many jobs require our physical presence, but because so many of us see real value in face-to-face interactions with our coworkers.

All of this is not to say that change is not underway. It is–and much of the social unrest we are seeing is attributable to it. The pandemic may accelerate some part of the broader social changes that were occurring when it hit–or it may retard some–but the real shifts have been underway for years, fostered by improved transportation and communication technologies and demographics.

I suspect that changes in the wake of the video of George Floyd’s murder by a police officer will turn out to be far more consequential than those triggered by the pandemic.

Last year, Gallup documented major social changes that have occurred “since Woodstock”: religious attachment has waned, support for marijuana legalization has grown, interracial marriage–and its acceptance– has increased, a majority of Americans now support reproductive rights, voters are far more willing to elect women or people of color, family sizes have shrunk, and given the option, most women now prefer to enter the workforce to staying home. And of course– to belabor the obvious–attitudes about premarital sex and LGBTQ citizens have dramatically changed.

There is a (hotly disputed) academic theory that posits cultural “swings” every forty or fifty years. Whatever the accuracy of that theory, anyone even slightly conversant with social history can recognize how the disruptions of one era lay a foundation for those of the next, and how technological innovations affect those changes (usually, in unanticipated ways).

My absolutely non-crystal-ball conclusion is that humans are approaching one of our inevitable turning points. (This one is made far more dangerous by climate change, and by the sheer number of humans on our planet.) One aspect of our new reality is already visible: thanks to demographic change and significantly increased urbanization, it has become far more difficult for people to live in geographic–as opposed to ideological–bubbles, far more difficult for most folks to ignore the reality of human diversity and the complexities of our daily social interactions.

At times like these, when social transformation seems overwhelming, people everywhere fall into two broad (very broad) categories–those who accept the new realities and those who reject them. Those who adapt–or try to– and those who panic.

In the United States, the MAGA folks, the alt-right provocateurs, the fundamentalist preachers, the Fox-News audience members and their ilk are clinging to a world that no longer exists, insisting that we can bring back a time when everyone knew their place– and the straight white Christian guy’s place was on top.

The pandemic will impel some changes around the edges, but the real transformation will be produced by people who recognize the necessity of building a different, fairer world. I’m betting that there are enough of those people, that they outnumber and certainly out-think the reactionaries, and that the disorientation and unrest we are now experiencing will ultimately lead to a vastly improved social contract.

I sure hope I win that bet….


  1. Growing legions Of Americans seem to be focused on more than just getting Trump out of the White House along three related tracks: 1) Black Lives Matter, it’s grandaddy – the Pro-Democracy Movement, and 3) Climate change. The only long-term change the pandemic might bring about is that of convincing more Americans that that there is a role for competent government at all levels.

  2. Perhaps this is the time for small businesses to return; IF there are actually stimulus loans available and IF any small business owner will qualify under Trump and McConnell’s guidelines as written in the trillions of dollars of the stimulus bill. We already know large corporations do not want to spend any of their money; not even the millions they received from that stimulus bill, to return to full production by rehiring former staff. Is there a market for their products and service and what is the condition of the GDP today; are smaller, local businesses reaping profits from the hundreds of thousands of protesters around the country for three weeks.

    Local police do not fear publicly continuing their abuses and killing of unarmed blacks and a small town Utah police officer, while looking for an armed robbery suspect, held his gun on a 10 year old black boy playing in this grandmother’s yard. The suspect was described as being black, Hispanic or Polynesian but NOT a 10 year old child; the officer will remain on his job. We are now living in a dangerous racial situation proving the old adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Our Racial Pandemic escalates rather than abates and the rallying cry of “Defund Police” is adding to the escalation. Who knows what the hell those words REALLY mean when each city and town is using – or ignoring – the cry and responding individually. No organization means no law and order and certainly no safety; why has their been an armed Sheriff in my local Kroger recently…watching all of the masked shoppers?

    Manufacturers of personal face masks seem to be thriving; are any of the companies on the Stock Market?

    “The pandemic will impel some changes around the edges, but the real transformation will be produced by people who recognize the necessity of building a different, fairer world. I’m betting that there are enough of those people, that they outnumber and certainly out-think the reactionaries, and that the disorientation and unrest we are now experiencing will ultimately lead to a vastly improved social contract.”

    I, too, hope Sheila wins that bet!

  3. Change is never easy!
    Usually, blood will cause change. The pandemic has brought some extra death and this country and the world, but, it’s affected other areas of the world that are not involved in as much deathdealing as ours! Heck, just past weekend, there were dozens of murderers in Chicago, people gunned down in the streets. Much more than the police ever thought about doing. And, I can imagine what it will be like if the police were ever defunded.

    But I guess that’s the whole point, what can everyone imagine? We know that because of man’s mortality, history constantly repeats itself. But, sometimes great tragedy brings about permanent change in specific cultures. Take for instance the Babylonians sacking of Jerusalem, I believe it was around 607 BC. The Jews rounded up in bondage until King Cyrus conquered the Babylonians and released the Jews. He even helped them to rebuild the Temple. But, it didn’t take long before the religious shenanigans started again. And in 70 CE, Jerusalem was laid siege to. Now, the Jews could have escaped the siege because the Roman soldiers pulled back for an inexplicable reason. So the Jews ignored the warnings because they felt they defeated their enemy. The Romans came back a few years later and laid siege, the people in Jerusalem, were eating their children! They were starved, so they would trade children with their neighbors because they could not eat their own. Roman commander Titus didn’t want to destroy the city and the temple. But they refused to open the gates. The Roman soldiers breached, and slaughtered everyone in the city. One reason was, the people were swallowing their treasures, and the Roman soldiers found out and eviscerated everyone they came upon and took what was inside their gullet’s.

    Fast forward to the 3rd Reich, when they were rounding up Jews, the German Nazis were aware of what happened in Jerusalem, so, if they arrested a wealthy person and couldn’t find the money, those people were slit open immediately. In the camps, people had to use the bathroom and buckets during the day, and it had to be inspected before it was dumped. If someone passed something valuable they were immediately slit open.

    The point is, even though as Scripture said, in Exodus, that the Jews were obstinate people, they did make a change eventually. After 70 CE, they quit sacrificing at the altar. The altar was never rebuilt, so, they did not continue practicing the Mosaic law in its entirety, and the temple sacrifice in the holy of holies was the most important portion of the law. And to this day, there still is no sacrifice, it’s charity work and such, which there never was a provision in the Mosaic law to supplant blood sacrifice with anything.

    So, the Jews chose not to fight anymore after 70 CE, and you can see the result of those actions. The capitulation of Jews to their oppressors in the 2nd world war led to horrible atrocities! So sometimes, change might not be for the better.

    So, where in history have police forces ever been eliminated and there has been peace? The police have a purpose, as in Romans the 13th chapter versus one through 7. It’s best not to throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak.

    And, I suspect that the evangelicals are not going to set around playing tiddlywinks if they have to have gay and lesbian workers manning positions in those places of business that are owned by the churches and evangelicals. Is this period of time going to be a watershed moment for Christian evangelicals as 70 CE was for the Jews? Just as the Jews tried to alter the Mosaic law, the Christian right tries to alter Christ’s law, and eventually bad things become of it. Hard lessons are learned, even though, those hard lessons might not be beneficial. So, history continues to repeat.

  4. Dr Kennedy:
    ” In the United States, the MAGA folks, the alt-right provocateurs, the fundamentalist preachers, the Fox-News audience members and their ilk are clinging to a world that no longer exists, insisting that we can bring back a time when everyone knew their place– and the straight white Christian guy’s place was on top.”

    Here’s my response to the “MAGA “folks”:
    All the rest of us folks:
    M A H A ——- Make America HAPPY Again

  5. As Sheila eludes to, changes occur on a macro and micro level. We are seeing many obstacles on the macro level and have for decades.

    Globalism and climate change have brought us diseases that were isolated in their environments before we disrupted them. As we’ve witnessed, they spread like wildfire. Who heard of Wuhan, China, before the novel coronavirus?

    If you look at the tracking maps, it’s quite incredible to view how infections grew from that one province in Communist China.

    Technology abrupts business, as usual, more frequently than ten years. If your WIFI modem is older than 3-4 years, it is outdated and not providing the current technology coming through the cables to our homes.

    I suspect the democratization movement will also lead to the decentralization of many systems. Our food system will have to be rethought as our federal government allowed for way too much concentration into the hands of the few. As we just experienced, this failed miserably as millions of animals were slaughtered and buried while there were massive lines at food giveaways and pantries.

    I also envision significant pushes for universal healthcare. Our healthcare industry showed substantial weaknesses, and so did our employer-provided insurance during this pandemic.

    Stressors disrupt the status quo, and we are experiencing significant stressors on many levels. We need to be addressing the macro changes first since any changes there will disrupt multiple systems that will have to adapt.

    Those who fear change will not enjoy what’s coming. As Sheila pointed out, the Trumpian mentality consists of closed-minded people who cannot or will not adapt. They will continue doubling down on their unwillingness to change. Life will be unbearable.

  6. Just read that the US has regained its title as number one in new Covid19 cases, taking the title back from Brazil, where it seems the government is eager to kill off as many of its citizens as possible. Are we tired of winning yet?

    In my view, the greatest change that could be brought about would be a change in the participation level in our politics. I would dearly love to see 90% of Americans who are eligible, cast a ballot this November. I’m not a Pollyanna, so I actually doubt I will see that in my lifetime. As hopeful for change as I am at this time, my realism tells me we will likely have decades of fits and starts, before we actually see real movement toward a fair and just society.

  7. On a more pragmatic note: The future after Trump must include, as a top priority, a re-establishment of the rule of law, the re-enactment of all the environmental controls and policies that have been cast aside and the recovery of our health and health care agencies that have been thrown to the curb.

    As part of that rule of law process, the criminals who have caused so much damage, suffering and disruption to our society must be put on trial. They MUST be held accountable. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll just end up repeating the mistakes we made by putting in office a criminal and allowing a major political party to abet and enable that criminal.

    I see where the League of Women Voters is worried that they can’t register voters because of COVID restrictions. I wonder if that group – and others – would be able to mail out registration forms to un-registered voters. Yes, the voters will have to fill out the forms and submit them, but somehow we must get people to the polls in November in massive numbers. If we don’t, the criminal Republican party will continue to destroy the Constitution and democracy for their assumed benefit. That means that Trump-ism will continue and we will become that third-world dictatorship all thinking people fear the most.

  8. And Trump has reiterated his most idiotic solution to the Covid-19 Pandemic; that there would be fewer cases if they would stop testing. This prediction was provided by Joe Scarborough on “Morning Joe” a short time ago; “And there would be fewer pregnancies if they would just stop giving those pregnancy tests.”

    Peggy Hannon; thank you for these quotes, “Just read that the US has regained its title as number one in new Covid19 cases, taking the title back from Brazil, where it seems the government is eager to kill off as many of its citizens as possible. Are we tired of winning yet?”

    I’m tired, I’m very tired and at age 83 I feel sure I will never live long enough to say, “My soul is rested.”

  9. I fear that for all the other changes, the mega-doom of climate change marches forward, inch by inch on our shores, degree by degree in our air and increment by increment in so many ways. Attention to all the other changes mentioned today will, unfortunately, eclipse and divert us from the one threatening our species very existence.

  10. From another Blog on White Privilege:

    Think about Trump. He’s been married three times. Has had five kids with three different wives. Brags about pussy-grabbing. Has had documented affairs with a Playboy playmate and a porn star while paying them hush money. And none of this behavior has ruined his political chances, even among the “family values” evangelical crowd. Indeed, evangelicals generally love “bad boy” Trump.

    Now, imagine a black candidate for the presidency with Trump’s record. The multiple marriages, the adulterous affairs, the pussy-grabbing talk. Would this black guy have a ghost of a chance at being nominated in the USA? Recall that Barack Obama needed to have the “perfect” family image, monogamous, faithful, wife, two kids, by all accounts a loving relationship, the prototypical nuclear family.

    Now, let’s imagine a woman of any race or creed. What would America say about a female candidate who’s had five kids with three different husbands? Who’s had adulterous affairs with porn stars and Playgirl centerfolds? Who’s bragged of grabbing males by the you-know-what? Would she have a chance to be our president? To be embraced by evangelicals as their candidate of choice? Of course not.

    With Trump, all this doesn’t matter. As a rich spoiled white guy, he’s been given a blank check by society to do whatever he wants. Sure, he’s been criticized for his more outrageous comments and actions, but he still won the presidency — and may yet win again. You simply can’t say the same of any woman or any person of color with the same baggage as Trump.

    Prior to the Trumpet a candidate for political office had to a least pretend to have a semblance of “stable relationships”. They had to at least pretend to be “Civil” in public. The Trumpet has tossed all of that. Although, the GOP is in perfect lockstep with the Trumpet, none in except in rare circumstances seem to want to go to the extremes of The Trumpet at least in public.

    Predicting the future for the GOP is difficult. As I mentioned a few days ago those GOP voters that are uncomfortable with The Trumpet have two major issues that bind them. They are vehemently opposed to abortion and are fanatic gun rights types.

  11. There is an excellent article which is titled: Fearing Fear Itself: Scared Enough to Vote Republican Yet?

    We can sometimes look to the past and have some degree of confidence in predicting the future. One thing that stands with shining clarity is the GOP and their Right Wing Reactionaries to promote FEAR. Joe McCarthy was the Holy Father of FEAR. Nixon promoted FEAR, he also had his solution “Law and Order”. FEAR is already dominating the Reactionaries for the most part on Facebook. Some though have tried to dismiss Corona as a threat to general population.

    The Trumpet’s Tulsa rally will “prove” The Trumpeter’s are not afraid of Corona, probably no masks and elbow to elbow crowding, The Trumpeter’s will have to prove their bravery.

    From the article I mentioned:
    The only thing impeding the good work of the GOP is the attempt by the malevolent lefties to keep the President of the United States from holding rallies where real men can gather to shout “lock her up” unmuffled by namby-pamby masks..

    But never fear, Donald Trump knows what he’s doing. He’ll be coming to a mega church near you soon, or to a civic auditorium where he will be introduced by some local Republicans and talk radio hosts, all joined together to stoke your fears about how scientists, books, education, the global warming hoax, and the dangers of wearing face masks are all just left wing conspiracies to keep us all enslaved and ensure that America goes back to being shitty again, the way it was before Trump was sent by God to clean up the mess.

    Trump and the loyal forces of the American right have done all they can to ensure that you and your fellow Americans are as frightened as you can possibly be. But have no fear, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

  12. I have no data but wonder if a lesson for all coming out of this, whenever that might be, is that we are a single global species too numerous in number and too expensive in natural resources to be sustainable. We can fix that or we can choose not to and let nature exert itself on the problem.

    Climate change is just one of the symptoms, pandemics are another and so is social instability. Nature is pushing back. Can we fix it ourselves with less chaos and trauma?


  13. Lester Levine is on to someting today with his observation, i.e., climate control. Ancient diseases are returning with the melting of the permafrost (not so permanent) in northern Russia, reindeer are diseased and dying, and the combination of runaway population when added to those Sheila identifies today who want the same old – same old world don’t seem to understand change, and even those of us with some understanding of change don’t recoginze that the nature of change is itself changing. Everything changes; even change itself.

    What we talk about generally is not change but manifestations of change, policical, economic, social, environmental etc. As Sheila suggests, we see the old order of such changes before our very eyes, eyes ranging from revolutionary to tut=tut preacher views and with many stops between the extremes (if indeed such views represents “extremes” themselves since what is extreme is subject to change as well depending upon the (then changing) environment in which such views are judged).

    Yes, we have had change since cellular mitosis began, but not with billions of human animals who pay little attention to the mess they are creating, a mess that unless corrected may by iteself spell our doom irrespective of how we handle political, economic, and social issues, all of which combined pale with the threat of environmental extinction. When you can’t breathe, it makes little difference whether you are a Democrat, or white, or whatever. First things first, and the big surprise to rational people is why cleaning up our mess could take on a political or any other kind of hue, since nothing else matters if we don’t clean up our mess. Lester is right.

  14. While we in the U.S. are engaged in chaotic social and political upheaval, the rest of the world is skating dangerously close to the edge of worldwide, possibly nuclear, war, as Chinese and Indian forces skirmish at their border with casualties on both sides, the Korean countries disengage and threaten each other, the Russians suppress and obfuscate viral data and despoil the Arctic with a huge fuel spill. There are nuclear weapons in all of the above. Climate change may happen a lot faster with nuclear winter in the offing if the virus doesn’t continue to remove millions (that we know of) from the world’s population to slow the damage already done.

    A recent scientific report found shockingly high amounts of microplastics in soil samples in the Midwest. Our species may go the way of the dinosaurs by our own hand, slowly poisoning ourselves to death as we refuse to adapt to reality.

    The social unrest we see on a daily basis all around the world is heading toward a perfect storm of consequences. As history has shown us over and over, the poor and uneducated will bear the brunt of those consequences for generations if they manage to survive them at all.

    Adaptation is the secret to survival. We will have to speed up the process to slow the inevitable collapse of all we have striven toward for so many decades. Science has shown that the fits and starts required to adapt take time. We seem to be running out of that irreplaceable resource.

    Voting is only as effective as the system allows. It is often the only non-violent choice to push for meaningful change. The stubborn, willfully ignorant and those who fight to retain stolen power have made sure that the system always works in their favor or at least can be manipulated to favor their unprincipled, criminal hold on power with little cost to themselves. The future looks to be a lot like the past in this country and the world. The ones with the biggest guns make the rules and hoard the power/wealth.

    The pendulum continues to swing. Which way will it go now?

  15. One of the ways we get a little fooled by the pandemic numbers game going on is that what is significant is not each country but the population within those borders.

    Yesterday something significant happened and nobody noticed. The US passed Ireland and The Netherlands in corona cases per million population. We are now in seventh place in the world. As our cases are still growing while the early leaders (Europe) are more stabilized now that may not yet be our final position.

  16. One of the ways some get fooled is the same with the pandemic and climate change as in both cases the problem is not necessarily what’s here today but the rate at which those impacts are growing in consequences.

    Neither problem is anywhere near done affecting the human race. What both will leave behind is immense sadness and economic destruction.

  17. I predict we may have one lasting change that might come from the result of the pandemic. New construction may include a bidet in the bathroom, or remodels will include a smart toilet with a built in bidet.

    Nobody could predict how fragile the supply chain could be and foresee that toilet paper would become a rare commodity. People will remember that.

    As for BLM, I hope there is lasting and positive change. I hope that climate change is taken seriously.

    If there is one good thing that may come out of the Trump years, is he is so polarizing that nobody can sit silently in the middle. They are forced to take sides and are moved to action. I hope we come out better for this in the long run.

  18. Toilet paper a rare commodity: that seems to be the only item of scarcity that people are upset about.

    Last week, I made a photo tour of stores in Anderson, Indiana and photographed hundreds of empty shelves. Entire rows of shelves. I posted those photos for response and got very few, mostly juvenile conspiracy theories and threats for being so evil as to notice.

    How about scarce socks? Underwear. Belts. Wallets. Sunglasses. Lens cleaner. Vacuum cleaners. Sewing machines. Thread. Buttons. Needles. Area rugs. Picture frames. Pencils. Adjustable wrenches. Hedge trimmers. Trash cans. Flower pots. Silk flowers. Sheets. Comforters. Dolls. Books. Magazines. A total absence of bicycles. Fishing equipment. Etcetera squared.

    I thought I was lost in the Soviet Union.

  19. I hope you win that bet, too.

    As you noted, vast changes have happened before — many, many times. And the outcomes have, more often then not, weren’t predicted when the changes began.

    One notable instance occurred in the Middle Ages and the primary agent of change was, of all things, the Black Death.
    As is happening now, change had already begun —- and then the Great Pestilence put the pedal to the metal.
    One instance was the fact that, suddenly, paper was cheap and plentiful while the people who wrote on it had become rare and expensive.
    The newfangled underwear, which people had just started wearing in some numbers, was made of linen and was thrown away when worn out. So they made it into paper. But about one third of the clerks and clerics had died.
    Then Gutenberg filled an urgent need and voila! we had printing. Which increased literacy and research. And caused a massive rift in the Catholic church. And the changes just kept coming.
    It became much easier to leave the farm. Jobs in town were suddenly plentiful and laws were even passed that made it easier to take the plunge. Sure, the lords whose farms were begin deserted weren’t pleased, but the kings wanted the cities and towns running smoothly. So something had to give.

    Here’s an detailed analysis:
    I recommend watching the entire thing but, if you’re impatient, you can fast forward to 17:20.

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