June 12, 2020

COVID Synergies and Chain Reactions

I started this journal a few weeks ago saying that "now that the changes have slowed down a bit..." it might be a good time to start a journal to document the changes of the COVID period, because soon after big changes, people adapt to the change, get used to the new world and forget the old one. So before the old world has slipped too far from memory, I wanted to note some things down for reference later.

At the time I was reflecting the attitude in the society at large. New York's numbers of COVID deaths had been worked down to near the vanishing point. Many parts of the country were falling into line behind Trump's urging to get the country open again. The attention of the public and the news media seemed to have exhausted itself over the constant hammering of bad news for three months while people were mostly cooped up in their homes. There was a great need for moving on.

But if it seemed that things had slowed down a bit, we were firmly jolted out of any sense of calmness when the cold-blooded police murder of an African American man in Minneapolis caught on video set off a massive wave of protests around the country and then around the world.

It became clear again that the changes were not going to slow down. We weren't going to go back to anything like what we used to think of as normal. And on top of that, the COVID nightmare was probably still only at its beginnings in terms of the overall damage it will do to our country. The population is still under intense pressure from changes that have debilitated the economic system, put millions out of work and killed more than 116,000 so far and continues to kill hundreds more every day.

Now we have all these different major theaters of activity going on simultaneously: The COVID pandemic, an economic collapse with massive unemployment, social disorder based on unresolved issues that have simmered for hundreds of years in America, and a presidential election. This list is not all of it either.

The COVID pandemic itself is multi-layered. It has become a global health crisis of unprecedented proportions, and of course we are highly conscious of the economic damage from shutting down most of the country's public affairs. Less noticed, but ulimately even more important, is the effect the global shutdown has had on nature. And in general the effect in that arena has been strikingly positive. But the improvements we have seen in the environment are a reminder that the problem of climate change resulting from carbon emmissions is also an ongoing crisis. It's really the mother of all crises, the one large enough to cancel out all the others.

All these things are going on, and we are dealing with unprecedented political conditions in the United States and beyond as well. We have an election coming up at a time when it will probably still be dangerous for people to be in close proximity with strangers. We have a president who has put out the signals that he does not want to give up the office even if election results indicate that he lost. He is already contesting it and it hasn't even happened yet.

So we are in something of a maelstrom. And there's little anyone can do about how all these events will play out on the macro level. The forces that are in play with the unleashing of all these events togetheer are beyond the control of even the most powerful people on the planet.

No one knows where all this is heading. It's difficult to predict the course of any series of events because there are side events that may impinge upon the progression you are observing. Now we have a number of major, earth-shattering events going on at once. They are affecting each other, and will continue to affect each other in synergistic ways.

Synergy is based on the idea of the whole of something being greater than just the sum of its parts. Buckminster Fuller defined it a little more specifically as "behavior of integral, aggregate, whole systems unpredicted by behaviors of any of their components or subassemblies of their components."

The Beatles as a group packed a massive explosion of power that could not be explained by looking at the work of each individual alone. There are millions of examples of synergy and most people can probably think of some. But now we have synergy among several fields of events taking place at the same time. Each of these are invididually world-shattering events. Now we're getting them all together and they will continue to effect each other in unpredictable ways.

Not only do we have synergies taking place between simultaneous events, we also have the time element. Things are happening in succession in time. Synergies can take place between parallel chains of events, and events can set off chain reactions. So all of these things are happening at the same time.

The Mother Event was the COVID pandemic, leading to the global shutdown. The shutdown changed everything. It put people in quarantine in defense of their lives. It curtailed people's social lives, in many cases cut off their incomes, kept people confined, and that set the stage. When the George Floyd murder took place, it happened in that context.

Daily life had changed fundamentally for most people. Conditioning was broken. Many of the things that were previously considered imperative were stopped. For three months people had experienced a different sense of time and space, a different kind of life.

It was in this context that a series of murders of black Americans happened in short succession and caught the attention of a large number of people and suddenly something just exploded, and millions of people were in the streets protesting something that has gone on relentlessly in America since the end of slavery, but had almost always gone unpunished.

Suddenly this time all the rage bottled up in four centuries of white supremacy broke loose. Like a single particle of dust that sets off the crystallization of frost on a window pane, the killing of George Floyd was one of thousands that have gone without accountability. But it became the catalyst. It was the one that set off a reaction so powerful that it looks like it's really going to change American society in regard to racism.

This series of events also showed that the urge for change in America is strong enough that even a deadly pandemic cannot necessarily keep people from going out and demonstrating for a redresss of grievances.

The millions who demonstrated were mostly nonviolent, but there were looters and anarchists and agents provocateur in the first demonstrations. The first the demonstrations against police brutality were answered with massive force and brutality, making the case vividely for the demonstrators that there was something systemically wrong. After the wave of revulsion of the public to the scenes of police beating demonstrators, the overreaction was tempered and the demonstrations continued mostly peacefully for days stretching into weeks.

So we have many events taking place simultaneously or in sequence and many random combinations of events. But with so much of the population engaged now as a result of the pandemic, the recession and the demonstrations against police brutality, the democratic principle is in operation. We are beginning to see how the power of majorities can really effect change.

Once again, when the attention of the vast majority is focused on a single point, the will of the majority can be observed in action. And we find that that vast majority really does believe in the principles of the American republic, government by the people based on justice and equal opportunity to be a part of a thriving, productive society.

I see no reason to think that the pace or degree of change will lighten up in the near future. We will probably continue to be hit with unprecedented events that throw us into new realities. But lately when I see that millions of people are stirred up enough to come into the streets to demonstrate for justice, fairness, compassion, equality, and to risk their lives to do it, it gives me hope.

We're up against a lot. According to the known facts and trends about climate change, our prospects for survival through the next century are mathmatically dismal. But when I see people engaged in trying to solve problems, to try to stop the injustice that's built into the system, to try to change things that have gone on it seems forever, it gives me a great deal of encouragement. Our ancestors had to be highly resourceful to get us this far. I am hoping for the best going forward.

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