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Future Mind column

What follows “from Corona”?
Today we can guess better.
Eight guesses a year after the crisis began.

Sometimes something has to be covered first if something is to be visible.
Only when the umbra of the moon darkens the sun does the CORONA become visible at its edge. The atmosphere of glowing gases in which our central star releases its energy into space. And ultimately to us, to planet earth.
It may be a coincidence that this corona of the sun is called like a contagious disease: CORONA. But maybe it's a message disguised as a metaphor.

1. Change is decided in the »third (crisis) phase«

Every great expedition, every dangerous adventure, has four phases, the third of which is the most dangerous. Astronauts who spent a year in orbit tell of this rule. Arctic researchers who endure months in the dark on lonely stations when the wind is howling. Even single-handed sailors circumnavigating the world. The polar explorer Shackleton, who was trapped in the ice on his ships for 625 days, reported the "dark anger" that attacked his crew after a year of expedition in the Arctic Ocean. Disputes, drunkenness, accidents, loss of arms, legs, supplies and lives increased. Discipline sank into a swamp of self-pity and willingness to mutiny.

This "third phase effect" has something to do with our dopamine system. At the launch pad to the spaceship, when the ship leaves, we are euphoric about the challenge of the danger. In the »second phase«, routines of familiarization develop. It gives the impression that it is all over. Like in summer 2020.

The four phases are:

  1. Initial euphoria: Ready to fight!
  2. Getting used to: Routines prevail.
  3. Exhaustion and accusation: the nerves are lost.
  4. Homecoming and hope: the emergence of the »NEW normal«.

At the turn of the year 2021, our media system reverted to the state of Competitive Complaining - that complaint and accusation competition in which only the negative counts, which one knocks on each other's ears. The accounting and excitement culture that we had become used to in the "old normal" returned.
In this state of devaluing oneself and others, one loses respect for what has been achieved, for the common achievement. Wasn't it amazing? How do companies, creatives / artists reinvent themselves in the middle of lockdown? How did families hold out, stick together, find each other again? How did some cities come together as a community of citizens? How did schools change?

All of this is forgotten, only the negative is dragged in front of the cameras. You also lose sight of the fears that did NOT occur:
There was no civil war. Europe has not fallen apart. The pandemic was not - or rarely - interpreted ethnically, so minorities were blamed.

The world economy did not collapse.
Malicious populism could not triumph in the crisis.
Trump was not re-elected. Bolsonaro will fall.

Paradoxically, it is always the “third phase” in which the solutions emerge. The expedition learned a lot in difficult times. Now the individual findings and errors are slowly coming together to form a system of effects. The end of the crisis is on its way, but our brains got lost in exhaustion and insult.

In "phase four" we could happily return to earth from space. Or enter the harbor with our ship, where people are waiting on the shore, applauding enthusiastically. However, you can only experience this applause if you have transformed yourself along the way.

“After an exhausting year, it's hard for everyone - including scientists, journalists, and health professionals - to imagine an end, to have hope. We adapt to new conditions pretty quickly, including terrible conditions. During this pandemic, we got used to things that we never thought possible. Billions of people have changed their lives dramatically, have lived smaller, more restricted lives, with closed schools, the impossibility of meeting loved ones, the loss of work, and always the threat of illness and death. "

Zeynep Tufekci, The Atlantic

2. The "old normal" was not normal at all

If you could exactly restore the "OLD NORMAL" - the state BEFORE Corona - with one magic stroke, would you do that?
Of course, most of them will spontaneously say: IMMEDIATELY! ABSOLUTELY! But by that we may mean less the old state itself than the innocence of the feeling. The carelessness before the crisis. The "ability to do anything at any time".

Were we really carefree at "ALTEN NORMAL"? And did "being able to do anything" feel really good?
Do you remember those congested business lounges full of nervous business men? The endless traffic jams around Munich? The over-booming tourism? The never-ending parties, festivals, trade fairs that got bigger, more important, weird, shrillier from year to year? And somehow - dreary?
The uneasy feeling that somehow it can't go on like this?

Corona has drastically warned us that we have long been in a crisis of prosperity. We lived in the "OLD NORMAL" in an ABOVE-NORMAL, which gradually turned into a shortage.

  • ABOUT TOURISM: More and more flights every year at cheaper prices.
  • OVER-Meat: Every year more and more pigs in the stables and slaughterhouses, under terrible conditions.
  • OVER-pleasure: Every year more people drove to the drinking paradises Ballermann, Ischgl and so on. Venice was so full of people that it was on the verge of sinking.
  • OVER Connectivity: More and more frenzied real-time information, feverish yelling, spiraling excitement and doom hysteria.

We were in that hedonistic treadmill devices. The saturation crisis of a prosperity that had no more direction than the constant MORE. Since every increase in enjoyment has a decreasing marginal benefit - every additional schnitzel and even more champagne becomes bland at some point - a deep inner emptiness, a raging dissatisfaction spreads.

Corona revealed the absence of a plausible future.
The corona virus has drastically transformed our satiety crisis into a crisis of longing. Today we long terribly for everything that we used to have in abundance - party, vacation, noise, enjoyment, sensuality, availability. Even stress. But at the same time, longing forces us to look at our own desires from a new perspective.

"Joy is a form of resistance."

Alicia Keys

Longing reveals what we do really miss.
Do we really want what we want?
Or is there something else missing?

3. Epidemics can create spurts of progress

To understand the future, it is sometimes worth going back in time. How have pandemics, epidemics and epidemics changed human culture in the past?

The Spanish flu 100 years ago led to a deepening of the war misery in war-weakened Europe, but also contributed to the modernist awakening of the 1920s. The architect Norman Foster wrote:
“The last major pandemic of 1918-20 created abandoned city centers, face masks, lockdowns and quarantines. But it also heralded the social and cultural revolution of the 1920s and a new architecture for assembly rooms, department stores, cinemas, large theaters and sports stadiums. "

The chic urbanity of the grew out of the cholera waves of the 19th century Fin de Siècle: In the big cities, slums were demolished, sanitary networks and hospitals built, boulevards and parks designed. Drinking water became a controlled public good.
The plague of the Middle Ages initially resulted in pogroms and witch burnings. But the renaissance came to an end. The historian Frank Martin Snowden: “The bubonic plague led to the invention of public health, to enormous transformations in culture and economy, it contributed to the emergence of a centralized state system. (...) I would not go so far as to say that it led to the industrial revolution, but it was one of the basic requirements for the industrial revolution to take place. "
("This is an opportunity to make the world safer and better", ZEIT ONLINE, February 2021)

"It is a much worse kind of pride to belittle others than to exalt oneself."

Francesco Petrarch

Venice and other city-states developed their banking and tax and social systems in the waves of the plague around 1630.
(Charles A. Goodhart, Donato Masciandaro & Stefano Ugolini (2021): "Pandemic Recession, Helicopter Money and Central Banking Venice, 1630", Discussion Paper.)

This resulted in long-term investment strategies - in the arts, architecture, but also scholastic education. Society became more mobile because workers were sought everywhere. Slave-like work diminished. Guilds came up. Cities like Bruges and Milan, which acted in a coordinated manner against the epidemic and were largely spared from the epidemic, then experienced a long period of prosperity. People moved away from old religious dogmas, revolutionary thinkers like Petrarch and Boccaccio now represented the human sense of the humanitas in focus.

Exactly how all these factors work together we may never fully understand. Much is perhaps coincidence, reflex, spontaneous resilience. But isn't it likely that the corona epidemic will also produce the kind of changes we know from the history of human suffering?

“It's the end of the world as we know it, and everything feels fragile - like fine china, thin glass, silk thread. Everything feels fragile and so shockingly worth saving. In the end, it won't be butchery. Instead bakery - because everyone has apparently decided that the best thing to do is learn to bake bread when the world is in a tumble. "

Laurie Penny in WIRED

4thPandemics create GLOBAL structures

For some countries (cities / regions) the Corona crisis meant the rediscovery of an amazing sense of togetherness, because they managed to experience cohesion. Of course, this applies first and foremost to China, this huge nation, but also felt hurt for historical reasons, which was able to increase its pride in the pandemic.

But it also applies to plural societies that have been able to develop their own path. Take New Zealand, this distant and slightly mocked »Down Under fairy tale island«. There the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern led the country through a terrible terrorist attack AND the epidemic into a new cohesion. Or the small, Buddhist state of Bhutan, home of "gross national happiness": Bhutan never had more than 150 cases of infection per day and ONE single death in the entire Corona period. How could this be achieved? Through a structure of personal responsibility and care (at the local level: the »Rostock system«). Taiwan and Iceland with their "high-test-high-trust strategies". Costa Rica with its ecological civil culture. Senegal with an astonishingly efficient state planning. Israel with the vitality of a permanent crisis.

Italy and Belgium, two internally divided and insecure countries, experienced a cathartic process of change as a result of Corona, which turned the political system inside out - in the direction of internal reconciliation and integration.

The “winners” in fighting the crisis were small countries with strong civil cultures, led by women who renounced male heroism. Or men who embodied pragmatic care (Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa in Portugal).

Counterexamples are the Czech Republic and Brazil, which show what happens when society is caught up in male struggles for interpretation and trust. Populism then fails the moment it is invoked.

Such resilience experiences create a kind of "corona patriotism". But that's not nationalism. You can only cope with the virus at the LOCAL level - but everything you do there always has resonances across the planet. Here the GOCAL principle appears, the future principle of a networked world society, which can only arise when the own and the universal are newly connected.
When we learn from each other, across all temporarily closed borders.
When we tame the raging globalization through the self-confident local.

5. Epidemics make the delusion visible. But they also contain it

But what about all the madness, the madness of the conspiracies and denials? The Attila Hildmanns, the vain miracle doctors, the multitudes of adepts to gather around them? The »Corcells«, the Corona loners who spread hatred and conspiracy constructs from their screen cellars? The harmless hippies who tell stories of neurochips into the cameras at anti-corona demos that Bill Gates wants to plant in our brains?

First of all, we should admit that madness resides in all societies. Epidemics form a huge echo chamber for the internally unsaved, a stage for hysterical narratives of all kinds. At the same time, however, it was observed that the madness never grew into real movement dynamics in the course of the pandemic. The anti-corona demonstrations had a rather repulsive effect. The shrill alliance between neo-Nazis, Reich citizens, conspiracy preachers and radicalized esotericists never seemed sustainable.

The society's mental immune system was working.
However, Corona has clearly made a widespread cynicism that reaches deep into society. An aggressive EGAL. I am young, what does Corona have to do with me! Politics is cheating on us anyway! However, precisely because this attitude was clearly visible, it generated a backlash of solidarity. Politics and society grew closer during the crisis.

Compared to the first lockdown, the corona restrictions are much more annoying to Germans in spring 2021: 57 percent feel annoyed, only one in three has adjusted to the situation well. In May 2020 this proportion was 41 percent (Allensbach, March 2021). Nevertheless, even in the difficult third phase, approval of the fundamental political measures is still surprisingly high.

In order to perceive this, however, you have to turn off all talk shows, ignore the hate forums, turn off the shouting on all opinion channels. It pays to stop confusing the world with its media representation. Just now.

6. Epidemics do not “end”, but at some point create a balance of perception

Let's take another scenario: Corona will not have a real end, but will transition seamlessly into a new pandemic age. Ahead of us would then be an era of ever new mutations, perpetual alarms and lockdowns - a life in epidemic mode.
Will that be so? It could come like this - but we might experience it very differently from what we fear.

Illness and death always convey a social narrative. A story that is related to the MEMES, the patterns of perception of culture. Depending on the zeitgeist, deaths are rated very differently.

Take car accidents. At the beginning of the 1970s there were 23,000 deaths from automobiles in Germany (West) alone. Based on today's traffic conditions, that would be more than 100,000. From my childhood I remember numerous trips in my father's Ford 17M, during which the wrecked cars were blazing on both sides of the road. That was normal, and it even gave driving a car a certain flavor, a flavor kick the danger. Driving was masculine and heroic (and in some cases has remained so to this day). This is also the reason for the persistent resistance to solutions: when the seat belt was made mandatory in 1974, there were protests about "deprivation of liberty". The level of discussion was in no way inferior to the corona conspiracy debate. Similar lobbying debates followed on airbags, catalytic converters, e-mobility and speed limits.

Illnesses that were common for centuries still exist today - but outside of our field of perception. Tuberculosis, which fascinated the poets of the 19th century as elegiac »consumption«, still kills around 10 million people every year. Malaria causes 300 million illnesses and 1 million deaths annually.
See Heiner Fangerau / Alfons Labisch, “Pest and Corona. Pandemics in the present, past and future ”, p. 40, Herder 2020

Diabetes and obesity, classic diseases of civilization, claim tens of thousands of deaths even without Corona - and massively increase mortality with Corona. No fast food restaurant has closed as a result.

In Europe, around 9 million people are infected with dangerous hospital germs every year. Tens of thousands die from it. Obviously we got used to it. There are hidden and scandalized diseases - like Corona. But every disease at some point reaches a perceptual balance. The four parameters for this are:

  • Aggressiveness of the disease (death toll)
  • Acceptance of victims (empathy strength of society)
  • Adaptivity (behavioral options for avoidance)
  • Efficiency of the antidotes (vaccinations, medication, etc.)

It is foreseeable that Corona will enter the state of pandemic equilibrium - the new normal - in the next few months. Our customization options have largely been exhausted - lockdowns have been exhausted. Death rates are falling. The virus has become more aggressive in parts, but the antidotes are working. This turns Corona from a scandalized to an integrated disease. At the same time, everyday handling of germs is back to normal after 50 or 60 years of imagining that we no longer have anything to do with the nature that surrounds and permeates us. We are rearranging ourselves with microbiology - from a position that is no longer as hopeless as our ancestors.

7. Corona creates the breakthrough for the ecological turnaround

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Corona crisis is that it brought us much closer to the ecological turnaround. Never before have politics, companies and society noticed global warming as intensely as they do now. Never before have so many managers and executives, corporations and institutions, governments and politicians decided on a clear CO2Targets known. Suddenly, what didn't work with Greta Thunberg either: A change of direction. Never before have more decisions been made towards a post-fossil world. Just a few examples:

  • America has relied on a new CO after the Trump adventure2- Go reduction path.
  • Many large financial agencies are changing their portfolios in the direction of phasing out fossil fuels.
  • The largest container shipping line Maersk has announced that it will operate its ships with new post-fossil propulsion systems by 2030.
  • China has set up the most ambitious sustainable energy program in the world and in 2020 alone installed as much wind energy as Germany has in the last 20 years.
  • The automotive industry is now driving electromobility - a change in strategy. Many car companies have announced the end of the combustion engine by 2030 or 2035.
  • Today, industry associations sometimes call for STRENGTHER CO2-Conditions by the state.
  • The aviation industry now admits that it will not achieve the same dynamic in the next few years - and that it urgently needs a new fuel beyond kerosene.

The eternal cynic will wave all of this off again: it is never enough. But Corona has set something in motion in the deep layers of society, in the heart of culture. In the crisis, there suddenly appeared a deep longing for forest, landscape, horizon, a deep hunger for moss and stars. Never before have so many people been ready to cooperate with one another in new ways, to reinvent the world. Never before have there been so many wonderful initiatives, activists, networks for a better world.

Corona looked like a loud knock on the door. A window of meaning opened in the ecological, which previously remained closed.For the first time, an ecological turnaround is not only associated with renunciation and lack, but also with a vision of higher quality of life.
The canals of Venice, in which the clearest water suddenly flowed again, reminded us of how quickly nature could recover with our help. The “Blue Revolution”, as I call the great technical-eco-social turnaround that now lies ahead of us, has become more possible and probable. If we perceive and acknowledge this, the crisis would have fulfilled its transformative purpose.

8. Change does not come about through moral purification, but through adaptation

AIDS was the last major global epidemic. I can remember how we - who were still young in the 80s - woke up shivering and freezing from a dream of erotic self-development. At the time, I wrote an article in TEMPO magazine in which I declared the age of youthful awakening to be over. No more funny, even for us heterosexuals: AIDS would create a new era of prudishness, destroy the timid approaches of tolerance that put homosexuals in a ghetto, if not worse. And create a new arch-conservative Biedermeier.

What really happened was quite the opposite.
Today homosexuals can marry in many countries. "Gay culture" has spread everywhere and encodes our culture as well as other ways of life. How relaxed we deal with being gay in (almost) society as a whole can sometimes astonish us. Seldom has a cultural coding changed so radically (that this process is not completed and is always endangered, nevertheless remains true).

AIDS cannot be compared to Corona, many now say. AIDS only affected very few people. May I ask you how many human lives AIDS has claimed to date? (Corona: 2.5 million by March 2021).

The answer: 38 million!

Many authors and sociologists have now pondered how this "progressive paradox" came about. There were probably two factors:

  • The gay milieu had to get out of its niche existence and organize itself in order to defend itself. This made it visible and effective - also because it allied itself with other emancipation movements.
  • The dreadful death made it clear to the "normal society" that being gay existed in every family, in every company, everywhere in the cultural sector. It was now difficult to condemn people whom you admired or to whom you were related. There was an emotional dissonance. Ultimately, compassion triumphed over the cultural norm. The empathy about resentment.

We like to think of change as a heroic act, as a purification to a higher morality. That is a dangerous misunderstanding. People don't change, especially when you yell at them. In a certain way, people actually never change - we always remain contradicting, "egoistic" but at the same time socially needy beings. The moral panic that soaks many debates today - just think of "political correctness" - has toxic effects because it seeks to replace the principle of tolerance with moral compulsion to change.

And yet people can change - by adapting their behavior to changed conditions.
Change ultimately arises from ACCEPTANCE: We realize that things can no longer go on in the old way. When our oversized neuroflexible brain develops new patterns - through practice, feedback and a bit of coercion - new ways of togetherness and creative interaction with self and world emerge. Crises are catalysts here. They don't show us directly where we're going. But clearly where things can no longer go on.

Homecoming: The Infinite Game

How will we remember the Corona crisis in ten or twenty years, 2030 or 2040?
As an insignificant interruption - a year of horror, then everything went back to normal?
As the beginning of a pandemic era?
As a clusterfuck, as a meeting of all disasters and loss of prosperity?
Or as the beginning of a new era of cooperation and integration that led our civilization in a new direction?

I suspect that all of these interpretations will coexist. If we are desperate in this crisis, everything is loss. Also from the perspective of the future. If our idea of ​​»prosperity« is based on the principle of eternal MORE, the constant »step on the gas«, then the Corona period remains a terrible defeat.

Change means overcoming the inner nostalgia that keeps us stuck to the past, to the "old normal".
Change means changing expectations - and thereby finding a new relationship for the future. That is what I call the "regnose".
The future is a DECISION.
The decision to which infinite game to join again.

In his book "The Infinite Game", the professor of religion James P. Carse differentiates between two types of "games". Football, elections and large parts of the business are "finite" games: win / lose games in which there must always be losers and winners. Family, gardening, laughing (uncynical), love, art and cooking, as well as meaningful (purpose) business, are endless games. We play them again and again, in ever wider circles, with constant improvement and constant learning.

It is certainly no coincidence that cooking, gardening, love, family and even art in silence experienced a boom during the Corona crisis. Football was also still played, but somehow bland (there is also an eternal football game, I'm sure of that!).

Infinite Game (by Steward Brand):
The point is to improve the game
Improve as the game evolves
Winners teach losers better moves
Winning is shared
Goals are diverse
Relative complexity
Rules change by agreement
And adopt the tone of higher statements
New markets are growing

(From Steward Brand: The Clock Of The Long Now - Time and Responsibility)

Further sources:

  • Klaus Bergdolt: Nobody who spits blood survives - ZEIT ONLINE, October 14, 2020
  • Klaus Bergdolt: The Black Death in Europe - The Great Plague and the End of the Middle Ages, C.H.Beck, 2017
  • Paul Tschmil: Pandemics, epidemics that endanger our world - How society holds its breath, self-published 2020
  • Norman F. Cantor: In the Wake of the Plague - The Black Death and the World It Made. Simon & Schuster, London 2014
  • Egon Friedell: Cultural History of Modern Times - The Crisis of the European Soul from the Black Plague to the First World War, C.H.Beck, Munich, 1996
  • Stefan Winkle: The history of epidemics, Anaconda Verlag, 2021
  • Zeynep Tufekci: 5 Pandemic Mistakes we keep repeating, The Atlantic, February 26, 2021
  • Charles Hampden-Turner, Fons Trompenaars: Mastering the Infinite Game