A decade ago, a prescient think-tank document predicted 2020

Nearly a year ago, after COVID hit us hard, I spent my endless at-home time online, looking at whatever I could find on pandemics.  I found one treatise on possible methods of dealing with a pandemic.  One method was presented as a cautionary tale about how not to treat a pandemic — and naturally, it was a template for 2020's treatment protocols minus (if I remember correctly) developing a vaccine.  Although I believe that the article was 10 or 15 years old, I thought at the time that it had been looked at, and someone (Fauci, I'm guessing) said, "Oooh!  Let's try all that!  What could go wrong?"

Sadly, I didn't save a copy, and I can't find it now.  I'm not making the same mistake again.  Now that I have a platform to write about this pandemic, I am sharing what I read.

A friend sent me a link to a 2010 document that the Rockefeller Foundation produced, called "Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development."  Take the time to look it over, please.  It is based on a workshop on identifying "critical uncertainties" and exploring their potential effects on technology and international development.  It specifically examines how mankind would adapt to unanticipated shocks over the next 15–20 years.

The authors identify four possible reactions to an event.  Two are most relevant: one is called "lockstep," defined as "a world of tighter top-down government control and more authoritarian leadership, with limited innovation and growing citizen pushback."  Another is "hack attack," an "economically unstable and shock-prone world in which governments weaken, criminals thrive, and dangerous innovations emerge."  There are two more on page 16.  For my purpose here, they are less relevant.

The treatise is careful to point out that the scenarios they present are stories, not forecasts.  That warning is necessary because...well, you'll see.

Flip, if you would, please, to page 18.  The lockstep scenario posits a pandemic.  It is virulent and, in the model, kills mostly healthy adults, 8 million people globally in seven months.  It describes society coming to a screeching halt, with industries like tourism, travel, local businesses, and offices all closed.  In this scenario, the one country that fares best is China, which uses a seemingly admirable totalitarian approach, sealing its country, quarantining all citizens, and swiftly ending its pandemic.

It then describes a world with national leaders imposing draconian rules and restrictions, from face masks to temperature checks.  "Even after the pandemic faded, this more authoritarian control and oversight of citizens and their activities stuck and even intensified[.] ... [L]eaders around the world took a firmer grip on power."

The scenario posits that at first, people willingly give up privacy and sovereignty to more paternalistic states, in exchange for greater safety.  Independence of thought is stifled.  In the narrative, it takes 13 years for citizens to weary of this control, which enables rampant cronyism and corruption.

Turn to page 34.  That is the beginning of hack attack, a scenario of "an economically unstable and shock-prone world in which governments weaken, criminals thrive, and dangerous innovations emerge."

This scenario posits a series of worldwide shocks that kill thousands over a decade, many of them linked to climate change.  It has the humanitarian relief efforts costing vast sums and bankrupting nations.  The ripple effects include reallocating funds from defense to domestic spending, causing the breakdown of alliances and coordination.  This leads to global food shortages and a rapidly disintegrating society, where crime is rampant everywhere.

Overtaxed authorities lose the battle with criminal and terrorist elements, drugs circulate widely, and counterfeit and tainted vaccines cause not only death, but a breakdown in faith in authority.  On the technological front, hackers cause a "wild west" environment of stolen patents and invasion of banking, government, and corporate systems.

We currently seem stuck with a combination of these two scenarios.  If not countered swiftly, they could easily lead to our society's collapse.  I don't pretend to know as much about the rest of the world, but I suspect that similar results would be found in the more established European societies, for instance.  Oddly, I think the Third World will do best, as they have not had their economies collapsed (any further than some of them already are) because they didn't lock down.

The exercise in this document was theoretical.  Our reality is not.  It would behoove us to take a close look at what has happened in the last year, then develop our own scenarios to counter the ill effects of this pandemic.  Open discourse is the only solution.  Otherwise, we are shackled to the wall and just told to shut up and be dumb.

Image: Berlin — 1945, edited by Andrea Widburg.  Public Domain.

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