The Consequences of This Pandemic

I can’t shake the feeling that this pandemic is going to change the world in ways that we don’t even anticipate. What will life be like after the dust settles? What will we have learned?

I must admit that I’m loving the reduced traffic. I’m hoping that many companies will realize that yes, in fact, they can continue to do business with a lot of their employees telecommuting. And will this habit of consolidating all one’s errands into a single day rather than rushing out whenever the mood strikes have any staying power? Fingers crossed.

What will the psychological impact be? Are we raising a generation of agoraphobics? Will we ever get past the increase in depression? Will anyone ever feel that they had a chance to properly grieve those they’ve lost during this age of social distancing? Will there be a spike in divorces? A spike in unplanned pregnancies? Will we ever lose our quarantine weight?

As horrible as this is to say, I suspect that the tragic decrease in baby boomers due to this virus will reduce pressure on senior care facilities the world over. I suppose that can be interpreted as a good thing. At least from that perspective, if not from any other.

The economic impact is still hard to gauge. Will we bounce back quickly, or will the consequences be dire? Is the age of small business completely over? This pandemic seems to be killing small shops, while package stores are thriving. I know as a landlord I’m feeling the pressure, and I fail to see how my poor tenant will ever catch back up.

And what of travel? Will we ever be able to comfortably travel overseas again? And have we lost our taste for large concerts and sporting events? I know I’ll never feel quite as comfortable sitting cheek by jowl with total strangers again.

Now that we’ve seen nature bounce back ever so slightly due to our inactivity, will we appreciate it more? Will we care for the environment as we should have all along? Having realized what a cesspool we’ve made of the planet, will we make more of an effort to clean it up?

These things are but the tip of an enormous COVID-19 iceberg. But just as with the Spanish Flu a hundred years ago, a hundred years from now people will have all but forgotten what we have gone through and how things were before this pandemic washed over us like the invisible tsunami from hell.

Out of curiosity, I decided to read the Wikipedia page about the consequences of the black death. Other than the few minutes it took for our teachers to instruct us of its existence back when we were in school, most people don’t really think of the black death, and yet it changed the world permanently in many profound ways.

Here are some of the scariest and/or more fascinating bits of this Wikipedia article:

  • Historians estimate that it reduced the total world population from 475 million to between 350 and 375 million. In most parts of Europe, it took nearly 80 years for population sizes to recover, and in some areas more than 150 years.

  • The massive reduction of the workforce meant that labor was suddenly in higher demand. For many Europeans, the 15th century was a golden age of prosperity and new opportunities. The land was plentiful, wages high, and serfdom had all but disappeared.

  • Christians accused Jews of poisoning public water supplies in an effort to ruin European civilization. The spreading of this rumor led to complete destruction of entire Jewish towns, and was simply caused by suspicion on part of the Christians, who noticed that the Jews had lost fewer lives to the plague due to their hygienic practices.

  • Renewed religious fervor and fanaticism came in the wake of the Black Death. Some Europeans targeted groups such as Jews, friars, foreigners, beggars, pilgrims, lepers and Romani, thinking that they were to blame for the crisis.

  • Much of the primeval vegetation returned, and abandoned fields and pastures were reforested.

  • The Black Death encouraged innovation of labor-saving technologies, leading to higher productivity. There was a shift from grain farming to animal husbandry. Grain farming was very labor-intensive, but animal husbandry needed only a shepherd and a few dogs and pastureland.

  • In England, more than 1300 villages were deserted between 1350 and 1500.

  • After 1350, European culture in general turned very morbid. The general mood was one of pessimism, and contemporary art turned dark with representations of death. The widespread image of the “dance of death” showed death (a skeleton) choosing victims at random.

  • The plague was present somewhere in Europe in every year between 1346 and 1671.

What can we learn from the aftermath of the black death?

  • Clearly, our knowledge of medicine and viral transmission has greatly increased, and our ability to communicate is much better, so COVID-19 will not take as many lives as the black death did. That’s a huge relief. But perhaps these numbers should be used to remind us of the importance of social distancing, hand washing, and the use of masks.

  • It would be wonderful if this catastrophe brings about a narrowing of the income gap between the rich and the poor. We definitely need that to have a healthy society.

  • I fear the scapegoating and violence that is already happening. This time it’s focused on Asians and immigrants, and it’s absolutely insane. As if anyone is responsible for the existence of a virus.

  • I hope we see major environmental impacts, in a positive way, and that we don’t all revert to our previous bad habits.

  • I am seeing evidence of all kinds of innovation, and I find that encouraging. I hope we keep that up.

  • There is a very good chance that COVID-19 will return year after year after year, just as the black death did. I hope we come up with a vaccine soon, but I suspect that when we do, we’ll be getting COVID shots every year, right along with our flu shots. This is not a virus that will simply disappear after a few months.

Welcome to the new reality. May we all survive and be made all the better for it. Anything less will be an absolute horror.

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Great Minds Don’t Think Alike

I was Skyping with a friend the other day, and by way of saying goodbye, I said, “Well, I’m off to go take a nap.”

“So am I!” he replied.

“Great minds think alike,” I said, almost instinctively.

But I’ve always hated that phrase. I don’t think anything could be further from the truth. If great minds thought alike, this would be a very generic, lackluster world. I wouldn’t want to live in it.

If great minds thought alike, there would be no innovation. There would be no experimentation. There would be no reason to broaden one’s horizons.

If anything, great minds think differently. They challenge the norms. They improve upon our world. By thinking outside the box, they break us free of our cages.

As if to prove my point, my friend offered up this retort: “Fools seldom differ.”

And then we went our separate ways, both to take naps in different parts of the world.

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Insanity from Above

I once worked in middle management in a bureaucracy. I wrote a memo to inform people that there was going to be a huge increase in something or other. The next morning my memo was sitting on my desk. Written across it in bold red letters was, “Please don’t use the word ‘huge’ in memos. It’s unprofessional.” That was from the big boss. Seriously? It that the best you can do? Was that battle important enough to “grade” me like I was in elementary school? I posted it on the wall beside my computer so I wouldn’t forget that “huge” was on the no fly list. Everyone who saw it thought the big boss was an idiot. And frankly, she was.

Micromanagement is the most common supervisory error you see in the workplace. If you can’t trust your employees to do their jobs, why are they in your employ? If you make it clear that you have a total lack of confidence in your subordinates’ ability to think independently and solve problems, you will demoralize them, and stunt any innovation that could potentially benefit your business.

Micromanagers also seem to overlook the fact that if their employees look good, then they will look good. Rather than spend all your time frantically attempting to snuff out the light of their positive development, allow them to shine and you will benefit from that glow. It might be scary, but you’ll find that when you don’t grip the steering wheel with white knuckles, you’ll still arrive at your destination and it will be a much more pleasant ride for all concerned.

And that’s my huge piece of advice for the day.

Micromanagement2

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Drawbridge Mentality

While searching the internet for things to put on my Drawbridge Lovers Facebook page (Join us!) I came across the term drawbridge mentality. Imagine my disgust as a bridgetender when I learned that it was an insult. Basically, someone with a drawbridge mentality moves to a community, and then does his level best to prevent anyone else from moving there, or from developing the area in any way. The implication is extreme selfishness and a feeling of, “I deserve this, but you don’t.”

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If that isn’t the immigration issue in a nutshell, I don’t know what is. As a second generation American, I have always felt rather uncomfortable with the idea that our borders should be closed. If that attitude had prevailed prior to WWII, I wouldn’t exist. And if I lived in a third world country, I’d move heaven and earth to try to give myself a chance at a better life, legally or illegally, so who am I to judge?

Without Immigration, we wouldn’t have:

  • John Lennon
  • Paul McCartney
  • Albert Einstein
  • Irving Berlin
  • Mother Jones
  • Sanjay Gupta
  • Levi Strauss
  • Igor Stravinsky
  • Bob Hope
  • Amy Tan
  • George Takei
  • Deepak Chopra
  • Rita Moreno
  • Cesar Chavez
  • Tito Puente
  • Andrew Carnegie
  • John J. Audubon
  • Liz Claiborne
  • Omar Sharif
  • Mario Andretti
  • Yo-Yo Ma
  • Ansel Adams
  • Sidney Poitier
  • Michelle Kwan
  • Michael J. Fox

All of these people either came to this country or were born of parents who did, and we are much a much better country for having them.

If you repair to your castle and raise the drawbridge, put alligators in your moat and lay in a steady supply of boiling oil, what you do is deprive yourself of invention, culture, wisdom, art, innovation, health and new ideas. The minute that drawbridge goes up, you begin to stagnate, to rot from the inside. That does not sound like an attractive option to me.