Loss and change in a post-pandemic world

Abandoned hotel in the Azores

In my last blog, we talked about what the future of the European Union might look like in a post-pandemic world.

I’d like to add a few more random predictions as we pull back the lens to consider the globe.

In short, I think we’ll see a move towards de-globalization, where items deemed essential are manufactured ‘on shore’ rather than pieced together from parts sourced in China and other regions — even if it’s more expensive.

Plunging oil prices will result in instability in Saudi Arabia and Iran, both dependent on the petroleum economy.

The US will continue to become less relevant as a global power as it becomes more isolationist and focuses on domestic problems. I’ve already seen how Europe — and Germany in particular — stopped counting on the US after Merkel’s first meeting with Trump, and how the self-absorbed American leader is shunned at gatherings of world powers. This will grow worse during his second term of office.

Russia and China will fill the void left by the US. The post World War II global order may be at an end.

We’ll also see a decline in living standards, and that will hopefully mean the extinction of all those useless products no one needs, like 83 colours of notebook, or novelty crap that goes from cash register to landfill in a matter of weeks. 

The desire for security will override personal liberty, at least in the short term. Look for governments to assume broad powers, including increased surveillance, as they attempt to track or slow the spread of the virus. These powers may or may not be handed back, especially if COVID-19 returns in waves over a number of years.

What else are we likely to see?

An end to open borders

‘Activist’ groups are retreating into predictable camps as they fight for relevancy in a post-pandemic world that is quickly leaving them behind.

The naive open border advocates lost all credibility when nation states within the EU slammed their doors closed in defiance of the Schengen agreement as an attempt to slow the viral spread. It turns out borders were there all along, despite our agreeing to ignore them.

Nation states have been able to respond more quickly to the crisis than the European Union, which is paralyzed by bickering as 27 member states struggle to find consensus. And so individual countries are mobilizing resources while the EU acts like a married couple or members of a long-running rock group dredging up ancient arguments.

We can also expect nations to take a harder line on the migrant crisis in a post-pandemic world.

Even Germany stopped accepting new migrants as COVD-19 struck. Keep in mind, this is the country many see as having poured fuel on the 2015 EU migrant crisis when Merkel unilaterally decided to accept enormous numbers of both legitimate refugees and illegal immigrants, who could then use German-issued documentation to move freely through other member states.

The backlash against migrants will only partly be due to fears of importing infectious disease. High unemployment will be more significant.

Despite the walls of Europe — and other nations — slamming shut, the movement of people will continue as the pandemic results in resource conflicts, the collapse of economies, and political instability in Africa and the Middle East.

Climate change on the back burner

Here in the (formerly-) pampered West, I’ve seen environmentalists praise the pandemic because it resulted in a dramatic reduction in air pollution, international travel, resource extraction and other drivers of global warming. “We can fix climate change,” they argue. “We just don’t want to.”

Others call on New Age magical thinking, projecting consciousness onto the planet with statements like, “This is the Earth warning us to smarten up.”

I am absolutely in favour of clean energy and an end to shitting in our own living room. Why should we pollute so horribly when we can create a cleaner way of living that doesn’t involve giving up on travel or returning to Medieval ways of living?

But such activists fail to understand that this sort of economic shutdown cannot go on for long. Who do they expect to support such vast numbers of unemployed people for months or even years? Governments consume wealth rather than creating it.

The economy will ramp up into overtime the moment quarantines are lifted, and given the damage we’ve suffered and the sheer numbers of people out of work, climate change targets will be kicked to the curb, seen as less important long term problems compared to the current crisis. We will go back to working, flying, chopping trees and digging minerals out of the ground.

Expect climate to get worse rather than better, at least in the short term.

The death of ‘woke’?

I do see one positive outcome on the horizon. It seems like there may be an end in sight for the unfunny joke that is ‘woke’.

Critical Theory is taking a kicking as the often insane claims of so-called social justice ‘warriors’ went from centre stage to irrelevancy in the time it took to cough and touch your face.

During a real crisis, no one has the patience or misplaced politeness to entertain claims that glaciers must be understood from the perspective of gender, or that our entire culture is built on systemic racism / systemic sexism / an invented panoply of made up ‘genders’. I guess COVID-19 didn’t get the Implicit Bias Diversity Council’s memo.

Just last month, being accused of some made up transgression was enough to get one cancelled by the enraged ideologues of the 21st century’s Red Guard. Such ‘luxury ideas’ come across as laughable at best, and completely out of touch bordering on unhinged at worst, when people are dying on respirators.

I sincerely hope the Cultural Revolution style bullying on campuses has come to an end, and that adults will no longer be afraid of standing up to a mob of vengeful children. No one will have the patience for this nonsense when economic times are tough, and when the majority are suffering real (rather than imagined) hardships.

If only the impartial nature of the virus would also put an end to the “I am special” culture which has plagued Western countries since at least the early 1980’s.

The world could do with less presenters who take to the stage with the words, “Let me tell you who I am.” No one cares — at least, no one but you.

Rather than ‘share’ your fascination with your latest self-professed ‘identity’, or how deeply important you feel are the ways you love to get yourself off, or your unique nonconformity / allegiance to fair trade coffee / the moral superiority of all things Vegan, you might want to consider focusing on the needs of your audience, and on leaving them with some information that might be useful to their lives. (Hint: I don’t mean your incredible uniqueness)

If the virus were to inject an element of humility into our culture by reminding us of how special we aren’t, that would be a very good thing.

Depopulated cubicle farms rush to the suburbs

We’re also sure to see major changes on the work front, starting with a lot less business travel, and less useless meetings (or just as many useless meetings, but on Skype). Better tech will come of it, with smoother video, higher quality audio, and less dropped calls.

I’ve been working remotely for over a decade with my online publishing business, and I’ve never met most of my employees in person. We do a weekly audio conference call and use shared project management software and Google docs to coordinate our efforts, and it seems to work just fine.

I’ve never seen the point in spending company money on ‘group retreats’ or ‘team building’ gatherings, which are just a form of obligation socializing. Why would they want to hang out with me? I’ve tried to pay people as much I can afford, instead.

So yeah, I can see a lot more businesses coming to the realization that they don’t need fancy offices. Offices aren’t necessary, at least for introverts — but space is.

This is something apartment dwellers realized during every day of home based self-isolation. Those walls start closing in without coffee shops or parks to work in. It must be especially difficult for people who live with roommates.

Co-working spaces popped up across Berlin in response to the needs of such remote-workers, but I’ve never been able to get anything done in those places. They’re too distracting. I’m much more productive with a separate study in my flat — with a desk and bookcases — dedicated solely to work.

The European notion that each person should only have so much space and no more has always clashed with my Canadian sense of personal space. I think anyone should be able to have as much space as they’re willing to pay for. It’s their money, after all, and they should be able to spend it on what they value, whether that’s electronic gadgets, a larger flat for higher rent, experiences in the form of travel, or donating to the charity of their choice.

To the utopian social planners: go micromanage someone else’s life. If you want to live in a ‘tiny home’, by all means do so. Just don’t force others to adopt your chosen lifestyle. I promise I won’t force you to read books and watch old films.

The other development we’ll see on the work front is widespread unemployment. The constant strikes that paralyze France and Germany every summer might even transform into a sense of being grateful for having a job. Look for less demands and entitlement on the part of employees, and a little more sympathy for risk-taking business owners.

Emphasis on our shared humanity? I doubt it

Those are a few random thoughts off the top of my head as we sit in our homes and reflect on the lives we’ve lived until now, and on our hopes and fears for our lives next year.

I hear a lot of people — stranded expats in particular — saying, “We’re all going to come out of this with a better sense of what’s important in life.” And they list people, friendship, and our shared humanity as lessons they’ve drawn from being stranded abroad.

I’m not so optimistic.

First, we won’t all come out of this. A lot of people will die, and few want to acknowledge to themselves that it could be them or someone they know.

Second, I don’t see a golden age of shared humanity on the other side of this. If the economic depression is serious enough, I see potential resource wars, a retreat into nationalism, and a growing suspicion of outsiders — something other trapped travelers are already reporting.

It’s shaping up to be a very different world on the other end of COVID-19. Few if any of us have lived through this kind of upheaval. If we’re lucky, we knew older people who experienced the Second World War, and we took the time to listen to their stories.

No, I’m not so optimistic when it comes to utopian values. But I am extremely curious. For those who make it through, this is a very interesting time to be alive.

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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • Hello, Ryan:
    I, too, do not share any optimistic projections of a “better future”, as posited by politicians and health-profession advisors (employed by said politicians) once this iteration of a “novel” virus has run its devastating course. Viruses (viri?) have been on this planet well before we achieved a rational, thinking capacity that has propelled us forward throughout the millennia to the present day. They will continue to plague humankind, ever-mutating to meet the demands of finding suitable evolving hosts on which to feed. I understand that governments are doing what they can to shore up the voting, tax-paying populace’s confidence and hope for a beneficent outcome to the current crisis – the alternative is to throw in the towel, let the virus run its course unimpeded by medical intervention via vaccinations or a “cure” and pray for herd immunity to afford protection to the survivors. The latter alternative would, I believe, result in chaos and/or anarchy and the crumbling of the present economic structure because people would revert to type and the survival of the fittest would dominate the future for some time thereafter. Despite our well-paying jobs, trendy clothing, newest gadgetry and the perquisites of first-world lifestyles, we are all still tribal creatures and there is safety and security in numbers. So, the survivors will join that tribe or those tribes that survive and prosper.
    California’s governor recently proclaimed that his state is now a “nation-state”, an overt jab at the federal government – it isn’t only because the lack of a coherent and cohesive response has been forthcoming from Washington but also because of the long-simmering putrid pool of politicians from poles-apart parties who refuse to put down their armaments of divisive speech and behaviour and seek the middle path together for the benefit of the country’s people. Look for the shibboleth to crumble even more once the virus has peaked.
    Even in Canada, where I currently live, some provinces have begun to restrict movement between their inhabitants for fear of spreading infection rates. Provincial governments are slowly but surely taking on more and more the aspects of big-brother protectionism.
    My native island-country has shut its borders to all and sundry, even its citizens abroad, imposed curfews and lock-downs, mandated alphabetized shopping-days for the populace, pledged to financially assist everyone who has lost a job or suffers from reduced income – and the country is totally reliant upon tourism as its greatest source of revenue.
    I am not as sanguine about the aftermath of the virus as the politicians and the climate-change enthusiasts (“look how much pollution levels have dropped, you can now see the Himalayas!”) project and would have us believe, neither am I pessimistic about the survivability of Homo sapiens (after all we have been through prior to this evolutionary hiccup).
    However, neither do I intend to retreat into profound melancholy and seek solace in the depths of an inordinate number of wine-filled goblets or endless YouTube videos on how to bake no-yeast, no-knead breads. Just gotta suck it up, read copiously and voraciously, move the machine to ensure that everything is well-oiled and functioning, and do what I can to ensure that my family and I come out of the current battle relatively intact and prepared for whatever the future holds.
    Thank you for your consistently enjoyable, erudite and engaging writings, Ryan. Gives me hope for the prolongation of my slowly deteriorating senescence!


    • Thanks Bradley. I’m taking the same approach: stay informed (but not obsessively), write and read as much as possible, get some exercise every day, and watch classic films. Who’d have guessed semi-seclusion would be so busy? I’m curious to see how this changes travel, and extremely curious about the world we’re moving into.


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