Summary: Now the doomsters emerge from the baseboards, predicting that COVID-19 will destroy America. Let’s see why they are wrong and (more importantly) how to ensure that they will be wrong in the future.
“Bad nations are destroyed by crisis. Good nations survive them. Great nations are improved by them.”
— Paraphrase of an aphorism attributed to Andy Grove, the great CEO who built Intel into a giant.
We are now in the phase of a crisis when people boldly and confidently predict that it will collapse the nation, or even civilization. These people see our society as a house of cards, fragile and easily destroyed. It is an important perspective for several reasons.
First, these people assume that everybody else just isn’t as smart as they are. Especially those running our major institutions. Although these people seldom have specialist knowledge about the crisis (such as epidemiology in our current crisis), they believe that they know better than the experts (or the mainstream experts, as these people often treat fringe experts as true gurus). And they regard the inevitable mistakes (mistakes are always made in crises) as signs of incompetence (with their hindsight, the correct decisions were obvious).
These people are usually wrong because others are competent and preparations work. Business leaders take steps to manage their companies. Now that means encouraging first-class hygiene and sending sick people home. Governments are making plans for bad scenarios, and phasing in measures to make those less likely (e.g., stopping public events, closing schools). Medical facilities are screening for COVID-19 and preparing for a possible flood of cases. These are all tied and proven methods, despite amateur experts declaring that they are futile or impossible.
These people are usually wrong because few societies are like a house of cards. They have depths of resilience invisible to the casual viewer but emerging under pressure. This includes learning from past events. Such as 9/11, which produced a revolution in America’s “first responders.” They are now better equipped, better trained – and have better protocols, coordination, and communication systems.
A deeper level
But there is a deeper insight to be gained from these people. They go berserk at each new crisis, treating each as something extraordinary (i.e., like invaders from Mars). But epidemics, extreme weather, economic depressions, and natural disasters are life. They occur throughout history as they will in the future. A prudent society prepares for them to the extent feasible. The infrastructure of New York City should withstand the impact of a mild hurricane; Miami should withstand the impact of a severe one. People in the southwestern US should be ready for mega-droughts and mega-floods (e.g., an ARkStorm). Every household, community, and business should be ready to withstand recessions and epidemics. Governments should be ready for pandemics and depressions (i.e., events beyond the ability of the private sector to withstand).
There is another and more important level of preparedness: we need to be strong in several dimensions. We need to have competent leaders and be willing to follow them (rugged individualism without social cohesion is the fast track to disaster). We need the mental strength to avoid panic and face the possibility of hard times. We need to encourage each other to be strong and discourage panic. No national wealth and power can offset spiritual weakness.
This is just life. Societies that cannot manage this will die, eventually. That’s Disney’s Great Circle of Life in action, or the rough justice of nature’s god.
The big key insight
“Only the paranoid survive.”
— Attributed to Andy Grove.
Preparing to withstand extreme events is the lowest level of performance that allows long-term survival. A great nation prepares to avoid extreme events. That means building a resilient society. (Here is an example from NYC how not to do it: how Con-Ed boosted profits by underfunding vital infrastructure and supplies, much as PG&E did in California).
This is clearly seen in America’s response to the Great Depression. A regulatory system was created to prevent another financial collapse turning a recession into a depression. It limited banks’ profits, and so was eroded away during the 1970s – 1990s. The 2008 collapse was the inevitable response, with another depression avoided only by massive spending and guarantees by the Federal government. Since profits rule in our grifter economy, afterwards little was done to rebuild that regulatory apparatus. So we remain vulnerable to another collapse.
We are vulnerable to so many threats. We could go broke massively preparing for all of them. Perfect safety only comes after death. But we can prepare rationally by assessing our vulnerabilities and prudently spending to defend ourselves. Instead, we hysterically overprepare against the threats with the best publicity (i.e., whose solution most benefits powerful elites) – and ignore the rest. We can do better. See the next section for recommendations.
For More Information
Too learn more about this, see the website of the Society for Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty (DMDU). It is “a multi-disciplinary association of professionals working to improve processes, methods, and tools for decision making under deep uncertainty, facilitate their use in practice, and foster effective and responsible decision making in our rapidly changing world.”
Eminent climate scientist Judith Curry has written several useful posts about risks and uncertainty, such as these…
- Coping with deep climate uncertainty.
- Can we make good decisions under ignorance?
- Decision making under climate uncertainty.
- Driving in the dark.
- Decision strategies for uncertain, complex situations.
If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change. Also see posts about shockwaves, about doomsters, and especially these …
- Preparing for the future: should we be precautionary or proactionary?
- Collapsitarians and their doomster porn.
- Nassim Nicholas Taleb looks at the risks threatening humanity.
- Requiem for fear. Let’s learn from failed predictions to have confidence in ourselves & our future.
- Threats come & go, leaving us in perpetual fear & forgetful of the past.
- Dreams of apocalypses show the brotherhood of America’s Left & Right.
- The unseen largest threats to America. Let’s prepare.
- We face so many threats. Let’s respond rationally!
A new books about the many threats
Understanding the threats is the first step to defending against them. Although his perspective is different than mine (as are his predictions), Kunstler provides an antidotte to our greatest foe: complacency – reminding us that disaster is always at the door.
By James Howard Kunster (2020). See his Wikipedia entry.
In his 2005 book, The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, James Howard Kunstler described the global predicaments that would pitch the USA into political and economic turmoil in the 21st century – the end of affordable oil, climate irregularities, and flagging economic growth, to name a few. Now, he returns with a book that takes an up-close-and-personal approach to how real people are living now – surviving The Long Emergency as it happens.
Through his popular blog, Clusterf**ck Nation, Kunstler has had the opportunity to connect with people from across the country. They’ve shared their stories with him – sometimes over years of correspondence – and in Living in the Long Emergency, he shares them with us, offering an eye-opening and unprecedented look at what’s really going on “out there” in the US – and beyond.
Coming from all walks of life, the individuals you’ll meet in these pages have one thing in common: their stories acutely illustrate the changing realities real people are facing – and coping with – every day. In profiles of their fascinating lives, Kunstler paints vivid, human portraits that offer a “slice of life” from people whose struggles and triumphs all too often go ignored.
With personal accounts from a Vermont baker, homesteaders, a building contractor in the Baltimore ghetto, a white nationalist, and many more, Living in the Long Emergency is a unique and timely exploration of how the lives of everyday Americans are being transformed, for better and for worse, and what these stories tell us both about the future and about human perseverance.