Ready to imagine another world

What do you want the post-pandemic world to look like? This post is inspired by wise words and thoughts from Arundhati Roy, Naval Ravikant and Scott Adams.

Within just a few weeks, everything has changed. The coronavirus pandemic is a black hole that has sucked in all of our lives, all of our thoughts.

“Who can think of kissing a stranger, jumping on to a bus or sending their child to school without feeling real fear? Who can think of ordinary pleasure and not assess its risk?”

These two questions succinctly show how the pandemic has transformed our world and how we think about it. They are posed by Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, in her Financial Times article The pandemic is a portal. They inspired a question which I would like to ask you, gentle reader:

  • What do you want the post-pandemic world to look like?

With the world still in the pandemic’s grip, it can be hard to move our thoughts on past the present and its myriad stresses, worries and fears. But at some point, whether later or sooner, the pandemic will pass. Roy argues that with so much of our previous lives now up in the air, the pandemic gifts us the chance to embrace positive change as we shape the world that is to follow. She writes:

“In the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

For Roy, the pandemic is a portal, “a gateway between one world and the next”. So what might this next world look like?

Fast forward

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“I think essentially the coronavirus is going to push us to do things that we should probably already be doing as a society.”

This is Naval Ravikant, from his recent Zoom chat about the coronavirus pandemic with Scott Adams.*

The coronavirus pandemic has put parts of the economy on fast forward. Ravikant lists some ways in which it is hastening the pace of change, forcing us toward destinations that already lay ahead of us:

“Firstly, we do need to practise higher and higher levels of hygiene in this highly interconnected world. Secondly, I think it’ll move us more toward the future faster. Robotics, automation, telepresence, VR, remote work – all those things that are coming anyway. I mean, let’s face it, most of white collar jobs are just LARPing*, right, you’re just running around pretending like you’re doing work in meetings, and I think this will expose a lot of that. The actual productivity in most white collar jobs is in the small creative portion, which this will emphasise. It’ll force us to solve the collective action problem via those tools. It’ll cause us to do basic preparedness for viruses and bacteria that we meet as a society.”

Ravikant suggests that the post-pandemic world could see us arrive at different, hopefully better and more efficient – and certainly more hygienic – ways to do what we are already doing:

“I think people are fundamentally creative and innovative and consumptive. They’re not going to stop doing what they do, they just change how they’re doing it.”

The silence in the skies

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The pandemic is also giving us small tastes of a different world. One unexpected side-effect is a renewed appreciation for nature. Here’s Richard Deverell, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, from a Guardian article for Earth Day 2020:

“Right now, it may be hard not to feel despondent but there are shoots of optimism. After the lockdowns, we may may see greater appreciation for nature in many countries around the world. From China to Spain, people of all ages are missing what they did not know they would miss until they could not have it: craving open spaces; realising the wellbeing and health benefits of accessing nature; and, in many countries, missing the blossoming of spring.”

Arundhati Roy says that if we can, we should pause to appreciate the surprise gift of resurgent nature:

“[E]ven while the virus proliferates, who could not be thrilled by the swell of birdsong in cities, peacocks dancing at traffic crossings and the silence in the skies?”***

Deverell believes that the lessons of the global response to the pandemic can and should be applied to climate change:

“I hope that through our experience of this pandemic, we will learn that it is far better to preempt a global problem when we see it on the horizon than have to deal with it when it engulfs us. This is a lesson we should apply to the challenge of climate change, which also threatens hundreds of millions of people, as well as that of heeding and listening to the experts. We must also recognise that global challenges require globally coordinated responses.”

What will you leave behind?

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Each of us that makes it through this pandemic will in one way or another contribute to the post-pandemic world.

First we have to get through this. It is important never to wish your days away. Focus on the now. Count your blessings. Appreciate what you have, what you can see. If you should get the gift of a little downtime in your day, think about the world that will follow the pandemic.

What will you take with you? What will you leave behind?

What do you want the post-pandemic world to look like?

FOOTNOTES

* What could be more 2020 than a Zoom conversation about coronavirus? I must own that I am a bit late to party on this one. Early March 2020. But the insights and wisdom shared here as fresh and as timely as ever. Indeed, it’s always a treat to get to tune into the ongoing conversation between Messrs Adams and Ravikant. Their February 2019 conversation was my favourite podcast of last year.

** LARPing = Live Action Role Playing. Scott Adams agrees with Naval’s view: “I can say this as the creator of Dilbert… You can take 20% of any workforce and remove them from reality, and nothing would happen.”

*** The skies might not remain silent post-pandemic. But they could be quieter than before.  Social distancing could mean the end of the era of cheap travel, Business Traveller reports.

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