Life after a Black Swan

COVID-19 or coronavirus could be considered, at least partially, as a genuine Black Swan. It’s true that the first condition to qualify as a Black Swan is to be impossible to foresee. In this case, we can find a TED conference by Bill Gates in 2015, where he warned that we were not prepared to manage it. Five years later, facts have shown that we were not ready and, at practical effects, it can be named a Black Swan, a false one if we want but a Black Swan anyway.

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The behavior of many Governments in front of the outbreak can be qualified from poor management to openly criminal and, as a consequence, we have entered a new situation whose consequences are hard to foresee.

Unless a vaccination or a treatment can be found in a very short time, something is sure: The world won’t come back to the zero-day. No Government will have the “Black Swan” excuse anymore before the next outbreak but, beyond that, some changes in the common behavior can point to other changes that could last well beyond the end of the outbreak.

Probably, the restrictions of the movements are going to enforce the real dawn of teleworking, training on-line and many other related activities that, during the outbreak, have been used as an emergency resource but, now, it could become the standard way. Of course, it can change our work habits but, at the same time, it will have a major impact on real estate, traveling and…it has shown that Internet, basic tool for so many activities, is far from being as strong as pretended: Actually, the increased use of digital platforms like Netflix, Amazon or others during quarantine periods challenged the capacity of some of the main nodes.

However, these facts together with the impact on the world economy could be read as the trivial lessons to be obtained from the Black Swan. There are other potential effects that could be far higher.

One of them is related to the start of the outbreak.  As it happened with Chernobyl, where the Soviet Government denied everything until the pollution went out of their borders, the denial of the Chinese Government, allowing massive feasts that contributed to spread the virus once they knew of its existence could have internal and external consequences.

Could it drive to a major internal turmoil? If so, the consequences are hard to foresee, since China is nowadays the factory of the world. What about the external situation? Some Governments are pointing to China as responsible for the outbreak and its consequences due to the behavior shown during the first 20 critical days. Will these accusations go beyond public statements or will they remain inconsequential?

There is still a third kind of effect in the future world: Many optimists say that the world never was better and, to defend this position, they show statistical reports about hunger, health, life expectations, wars, and many others. They think that all the media focus on the negative side because it sells better than the positive side and it gives a distorted view of the world. It could be but there is still another option:

There is a lot of powder magazines in the world and we do not know which one will explode and, if so, what will be the consequences of the explosion and if they could start new explosions. We should remind that, when IWW started, not many people were conscious of it, due to the uncommon links of the facts that came after an assassination in Sarajevo. Actually, the IWW name came after the war itself.

To use the same term, we are running a farm of black swans and we do not know the consequences that could come from that. Then, without denying that the material side could be better than it was in any other Human age, the stability of that situation is very questionable.

Peter Turchin warned about this instability and how we should expect a major change in the world as we know it. Turchin is prone to mathematical models and, as such, he has defined nice algorithms and graphics. However, for those who think that numbers are a language and, as such, they can misguide people under the flag of “objectivity”, the real value of the Turchin model is not in the algorithms; it’s in the dynamics. He was very original, observing variables that passed unnoticed for many other researchers and explaining why these variables could be used as indicators of a major trend.

Turchin expected a major change in the 2020 decade as a consequence of being in the final stage of the decomposition. Being conscious that I’m simplifying his model perhaps beyond any legitimate limit, a major event -like a war- brings a kind of vaccination that can last for two generations driving to a prosperity period. After that, the decomposition starts driven by people who did not live that major event, driving to others and repeating the cycle.

Covid-19 and its consequences will be for many people a major event in their lives. The question, hard to answer, is if it will accelerate the decomposition process or, instead, it will reset the model starting a new positive cycle driven by people that, suddenly, discovered that there are real problems, far more important than the invented by some political leaders.

Some changes, even in the language of politicians, during the outbreak and how people rebuke those who try to attract the attention to the issues in their political agendas are quite revealing. Something is already changing; it’s not the virus. It’s the meaning of the change in the life conditions for many of us and how this change made many people build a new hierarchy of values.

Nietzsche said that what does not kill us makes us stronger. At this moment, we do not know if we will die -as a society- because of this crisis or we will become stronger, at least for a time. Something is sure: It will not be inconsequential.

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