What if Things Don’t Get Back to Normal?

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In these uncertain times, one of the most common questions is “What’s next?”. This question is often asked without expecting a definitive answer. The truth is that no one knows. Experts were taken by surprise by the failure of zero Covid and the Afghan fall before the Taliban. The unexpected dependence of Europe’s energy on Russian gas and the stubborn failure to bring down Ukraine before the Putin blitz revealed the limits of prediction. The touching faith policymakers had in modeling is gone. The impressive rise in computing power led to a period of confidence in models that made it possible to treat predictions as facts. This was the basis for government policy. It allowed the overconfident movement of reality into virtual reality.

The false light of the holodeck has been turned off, metaphorically leaving us in the dark, with Germany’s industrial energy rationing and Biden’s plan to release 180 million barrels of the National Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Although no one can foresee the future, it is possible to plan our expectations for the next months using probabilities. This allows us to prepare for unexpected events, even though they are likely. These are some things that people who worry about the future should consider.

Probable

This war will be long-lasting. The Russians might be able to relaunch a battle for movement. However, the war in Ukraine is likely to become a war by attrition or trench warfare. Technology alters the balance of defense and offense, making it more difficult for Moscow.

It will be difficult times. “Eighty-one percent of Americans are concerned about a recession this year.” Things could get very ugly in Third World. In weak countries such as Egypt, Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka, a food and fuel crisis could erupt. Already, the U.S. anticipates trouble. “Republican Lindsey Graham from South Carolina and similar-minded senators warn that widespread food shortages could lead to mass migration and political instability across North Africa, the Middle East, and this could pose a threat to U.S. security.”

The world will be arming itself. Seven European countries have increased their defense budgets in a month. More are likely to follow.

Possible

Many politicians will lose their jobs in the coming months. There will be a change in the cast. Recent events could trigger significant turnover in the U.S. and Western Europe’s political leadership over the next year. Putin isn’t the only one worried about regime change. Biden fears that his bad luck will make him a weak candidate if his party loses the midterms. CNN reports that Biden’s entire presidency was born in a crisis, a once-in-a-century pandemic. Now, his party’s second great standoff against the Kremlin is likely to define him. Jennifer Rubin, WaPo, expressed frustration at Biden’s poor luck, saying, “If it wasn’t for inflation this president’s economic performance wouldn’t be unmatched.”

The Imponderables

While we are on the topic of might-have-been, even with the likely developments, it seems that the status quo’s survival chances seem grim, but not impossible. They are encouraged and determined to win. Tomorrow maybe tomorrow. However, everyone’s carefully planned survival plan might be thrown off track by an unforeseeable event. These are the what-ifs. Some possibilities of these events are listed below but cannot be predicted. Imagine:

A breakthrough positive development such as fusion power, or a highly effective coronavirus vaccine.

NATO and nuclear weapons use are included in the escalation of the Ukraine war.

A coup in Moscow or the assassination of the Ukrainian leader by Russian agents

A deadly and virulent Covid mutation has emerged.

Unthinkable!

This would make things much more interesting. It is clear that even with all the probabilities, any attempt to predict the future is futile. It may be more beneficial to replace the question, “What’s next?” which is impossible to answer, with one that allows at least partial answers. For example, “How fast can we adapt to rapidly changing environments?”. To borrow from evolutionary biology, fitness simply refers to the ratio of good ideas reproducing to bad ideas and the rate at which other political systems, such as Russia’s, can adapt. The most futuristic question is, can we learn faster than disaster can overtake? Or, can Washington learn quicker than Putin and Xi?

This metric shows that Washington’s record in adapting to reality is not encouraging. Bad ideas are preserved from extinction by the Beltway. The Beltway is home to giant beasts such as open borders, the Israeli-Israeli two-state solution, and the Iran nuclear agreement. Nobody can eradicate them. It is a place where nonsense thrives and common sense is driven to the brink of extinction. Elon Musk pointed out that the federal government has “very, very old leadership.” He wondered how leaders can “stay in contact with the people” when they are many generations away from the majority of the population. While this may have been irrelevant during stable international order when little changed year to year. It may be crucial in 2022 when everything is changing rapidly. Many are still asking the question “How do we get back to the way they were?” But it has not become the imperative “How do we survive until tomorrow?”